By Gabriel Olawale
The need for active political will, investment, novel and innovative approaches to HIV testing has once again been reiterated by stakeholders as factors that will go a long way in expanding patients’ treatment and ensuring that all people living with HIV can live healthy and productive lives.
These approaches were identified by stakeholders under the umbrella of the Nigeria Business Coalition against AIDS (NIBUCAA), HACEY Health Initiative as they carry out free HIV counselling, testing and referral services to over 2500 residents and athletes community members around the race path before and during the ‘Access Bank Marathon’.
While leveraging on the global event, the exercise seeks to promote HIV prevention messages to over 1 million Nigerians via online and physical activities during the Access Bank marathon as well as provide a case study for private sector leadership to end HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.
Speaking on the significance of the project, the Executive Secretary, NiBUCCA, Gbenga Alabi explained that significant progress has been made in the AIDS response since 1988, and today three in four people living with HIV know their status.
But we still have miles to go, as the latest UNAIDS report shows, and that includes reaching people living with HIV who do not know their status and ensuring that they are linked to quality care and prevention services.
In the same vein, one of the partners as well as the Project Director, HACEY Health Initiative, Isaiah Owolabi, noted that its health officials and volunteers will also make referrals and follow-up of up to 100% population of beneficiaries in need of it.
“Nigeria has the second largest HIV epidemic in the world, with 3.4 million people living with HIV in the country in 2014. However, with increased investment in the AIDS response from Nigeria and its partners, the situation has improved in the past decade.
New HIV infections dropped from 310 000 in 2004 to 230 000 in 2014, and coverage of antiretroviral therapy increased from 13% in 2011 to 22% in 2014, providing more than 747 000 people living with HIV with access to life-saving medicine. The UNAIDS recommend that HIV prevention efforts must be reinvigorated if the world is to stay on the Fast-Track to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
The UNAIDS Prevention gap report shows that worldwide an estimated 1.9 million adults have become infected with HIV every year for at least the past five years and that the number of new HIV infections is rising in some regions,” Owolabi added.
In line with the exercise as well as NiBUCCA’s burning passion to raise a HIV free society, Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Head of Sustainability at Access Bank Plc, said “HIV testing is essential for expanding treatment and ensuring that all people living with HIV can lead healthy and productive lives.
It is also crucial to achieving the 90–90–90 targets and empowering people to make choices about HIV prevention so they can protect themselves and their loved ones. Unfortunately, many barriers to HIV testing remain. Stigma and discrimination still deters people from taking an HIV test. Access to confidential HIV testing is still an issue of concern. Many people still only get tested after becoming ill and symptomatic.”