By Ebunoluwa Sessou
According to an investigation, Nigeria has the second highest HIV/AIDS burden in the world with an estimated 3.2 (2.3–4.3) million people living with HIV. Cases of HIV/AIDS were first diagnosed and reported in 1986.
A consistent rise in the prevalence of the epidemic from 1.8 per cent in 1991 to 5.8 per cent in 2001 and progressively declining since then to the current figure of 3.0 per cent in 2014. However, estimates show that new infections have declined from an estimated 316,733 in 2003 to 220,000 (150,000–310,000) in 2016.
A total of 160,000 (110,000–230,000) died from AIDS-related cases in 2016 which is lower than 210,031 people in 2013. In 2016, the estimated number of persons in need of antiretroviral therapy, ART, was 2,230,000. Thirty-one per cent of adults are on ART. There are an estimated 380,000 children living with HIV in Nigeria requiring ART. So far, only about 20.7 per cent of eligible children are accessing ART, leaving the country an unmet paediatric HIV treatment burden of almost 80 per cent. The problem is that the 69 per cent of adults and 79 per cent of children who are among people living with HIV and AIDS and who are not on ART may be part of the faith communities. The faith communities must act quickly.
With this background, the organisations have opened up consultation avenues for religious leaders of the two main faith communities to interact and define their roles in Nigeria’s national response to HIV especially in treatment adherence issues in faith communities.
In his message, Mr Gabriel Undilikwo, representative of UNAIDS said: “We must see God in people living with HIV and AIDS; this will help to bridge the dichotomy between science and religion among faith communities. Inequality is a key driver of HIV and AIDS; as faith communities, we must address it, so we can achieve ending HIV and AIDS by 2030.”
Also, Mr. Tobias John who represented NACA reiterated that religious leaders and faith communities must be ready to rise from this consultation with a renewed zeal to end HIV and AIDS by 2030.
“To achieve the global 2030 target, this inter-faith consultation must discuss treatment adherence in order to stimulate uptake of ART and stick vehemently to ART. We must go home more informed and more motivated to encourage our friends living with HIV and AIDS to achieve healing through ART.
“We often forget that God’s ways and thoughts are different from ours. We should find God especially in unfamiliar places, persons, families, situations, health conditions, among others,” he said.
Most Rev. (Dr.) Benebo Fubara-Manuel, urged people not to condemn people when unfortunate things happen to them. “Stop judging people living with HIV and AIDS as though they have committed sin, rather work with them to adhere strictly to treatment.”
Also, Very Rev. (Dr.) Evans Onyemara said: “Our action will bring succour to people living with HIV and AIDS.”
Very Rev. Ikechukwu Anaga, representative of WCC-EHAIA said: “Our capacities have been built and we will take the lessons learnt back to our faith community, but more importantly, we must work together to have our own Treatment Adherence and Faith Healing manual.”
The workshop was attended by representatives of Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS UNAIDS, National Agency for the Control of AIDS , NACA, World Council of Churches-Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa, WCC-EHAIA among others, was centred on strengthening the capacity of religious leaders to unleash their full potential for the fight against HIV, discuss treatment adherence and the complexity of the concept of “healing through faith” and all its implications.