By Sola Ogundipe
Nigerians of all ages have been admonished to know their HIV status in order to ensure that whoever is potentially living with the virus is identified and put on treatment.
The Director General of the National AIDS Control Agency, NACA, Dr Aliyu Gambo, who made the call in Lagos, said anyone shying away from determining their HIV status was only dying in silence.
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Gambo, who spoke weekend in Lagos at the official commissioning of the South West zonal office of the Agency, told Good Health Weekly that HIV is no longer a death sentence because effective care and treatment is widely available.
His words: “We are taking HIV treatment to the doorstep of individuals. The course of HIV has changed over the years and now people can live with HIV for 30 years or more. There are people in Nigeria that have been living with HIV/AIDS for over 20 years. Globally, it is being managed just as High Blood Pressure or diabetes. Once you comply with the use of the medication, it (HIV) will never disturb you or show on your face.
“However, you need to take the proactive first step to make sure that you know your HIV status. When you know your status then you will be motivated to take action. Taking action is looking for the Antiretroviral drugs, but if you stay without knowing your status and if, unfortunately, the virus is in your body, what you’re doing is dying in silence.
“You are dying in silence because you are leaving the virus to eat you up because you do not want to come out and test and you do not want to ask for the available support services.
“If you have the virus but you don’t know because you don’t want to know your status, the virus will keep on killing your immune system until it has destroyed everything and when they bring you to the hospital, it would come out that you are living with HIV. It would show and everyone would then know because you would be having the face of HIV,” he warned.
In his admonition, the NACA boss urged Nigerians to voluntarily demand for HIV testing. “We have simplified the test such that you can test yourself in the comfort of your own home without anyone knowing. You can test yourself and if you test positive, just call us.
“We will ask you were you are located and will be ready to assist you to be accessing treatment services wherever is convenient for you. You can go to where no one would recognise you. If you prefer, you can tell us if you prefer to go to any of the treatment facilities, we can link you with someone that will attend to you and take you around.
“Such person would be someone that is also living with HIV, and in addition to linking you to medication and essential care, would also tell you what to do, and share experiences. Everything would be discreetly done. If you continue to keep the infection under check and control, your spouse and family would not get infected and you would live a normal, healthy life,” Gambo asserted.
Quoting data from the 2018 Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator & Impacty Survey, NAIIS, the NACA boss said between 1.7 million and 1.9 million people living with HIV in Nigeria had been identified.
“If we take 1.7 millions as the figure, we have one million on treatment, that is over 60 percent, that is, those who know their status and are on treatment and are retained on treatment.
Then there is the chunk of people about 500,000 – 700,000 that are moving within the community that we have not identified because they have never cared to know their HIV status, and even if they know, they have never cared to come to the facility so they can be captured as coming to take medication.
“When they have issues they go to the healing houses and other places, so now we are working with the communities, we have incorporated the religious leaders, young leaders, healing centres, opinion moulders, political leaders, youths and adolescents, and those at high risk, etc.
“When we go from door to door, and target those at high risk, we look at were the low and high numbers are and saturate our resources there and make sure every part has access to the services so they can get intervention at their localities.
“If they do not want to come to our facilities, we understand and we would take the services to them so that we can identify them and put them on treatment.”
Gambo said NACA is targeting putting close to 1.7 million persons on treatment and has got close to one million so far.
” We are moving quickly to the communities to saturate the areas and see how many can we get between now and December 2020. If we are able to add 300,000 – 400,000 to the one million, then we are on track. Give us another one or two years, we will bring it up to 1.5 million and then we can begin to see one see if we are on track for the last 90.”
Also speaking while unveiling the new South-West Zonal Office of the NACA, Lagos State Governor, My Babajude Sanwo-Olu, called for stronger collaboration among all stakeholders to eradicate HIV in Nigeria.
Sanwo-Olu who was represented by the State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, said there is an urgent need for stakeholders to review strategies and deepen partnership in the area of advocacy and expanding access to care, treatment and support for those living with the epidemic.
“Let us move forward in a bold new spirit of partnership to overcome the cycle of HIV transmission and deliver health and wellbeing for all. The progress made so far in ending this epidemic would not have been possible without dynamic advocacy, solidarity and a spirit of shared responsibility which must be maintained.”
He noted that establishment of the NACA zonal office in Lagos will bring closer the services of NACA to the people particularly stakeholders and partners while enhancing NACA’s monitoring and coordination functions in the drive to reduce the prevalence of HIV.
“The decision to locate the South West Office of NACA in Lagos, I believe is in recognition of the commitment and dedication of our government in eradicating the virus through the activities of the Lagos State AIDS Control Agency, LSACA.
More importantly, this decision is consistent with the recent classification of Lagos State as one of the locations of interest in the fight against the menace of HIV/AIDS”, the Governor said.
The Lagos zonal office will be a rallying point for all stakeholders within the South West zone to key into the national goal being driven by NACA.
It will oversee the coordination of NACA’s activities in the South West Zone and provide effective oversight of the Agency’s activities in cluster of States within the Zone for appropriate report to the head office in Abuja.
Other zonal offices being established by the Agency nationwide include those in the North East (Kano); North West (Gombe); North Central (Lafia); South East (Umuahia) and South South (Uyo).