It is heart-warming that the Federal Government has promised to review and develop policies to reduce new infections of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, stated this at an event to mark the 2019 World AIDS Day in Abuja recently. The minister also pointed out that government was redoubling efforts to reduce new HIV infections through enhanced prevention programmes.
He stated that the Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) in 2018 provided evidence that the national prevalence was decreasing. We commend the government’s new resolve to drastically reduce new HIV infections across the country. We also believe that everything humanly possible must be done to stem further spread of HIV.
As part of measures to curb the spread of HIV, all tiers of government must work together to halt the pandemic. To sustain HIV prevention and treatment, government should increase the budget for the control of the HIV pandemic. There is need to strengthen the national treatment and prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme.
For Nigeria to join the world to end AIDS by 2030, the government must work with relevant UN agencies to provide quality care and treatment interventions. Available statistics show that more than 1.1 million people living with HIV are receiving Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) in various clinics across the country and over 50,000 of them are children. However, in a related report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), not less than 47 children and adolescents died daily from AIDS-related causes last year.
According to UNICEF’s Nigeria Country Representative, Peter Hawkins, “low access to anti-retroviral treatment and limited prevention efforts are the leading causes for these deaths, with only 54 per cent of children aged from 0-14 years living with HIV globally in 2018 or 790,000 children receiving lifesaving anti-retroviral therapy.” Hawkins also said: “Progress has been made in the battle against HIV and AIDS, but we must do more, especially when it comes to Nigerian children and adolescents. It is a matter of life and death and we must choose life.”
We agree no less with Hawkins and urge the government to do more to end the debilitating pandemic. While access to treatment among children living with HIV is very high in some regions, it is very low in West and Central Africa as the following illustrate; South Asia at 91 per cent, Middle East and North Africa (73 per cent), East and South Africa (61 per cent), East Asia and the Pacific (61 per cent), Latin America and the Caribbean (46 per cent), and West and Central Africa (28 per cent).
As at March 2019, Nigeria had a national HIV prevalence of 1.4 per cent among adults aged 15-49 years, according to a new report. Previous estimates had indicated a national HIV prevalence of 2.8 per cent. UNAIDS and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) estimate shows that there are 1.9 million people living with HIV in Nigeria.
According to the new survey, while Nigeria’s national HIV prevalence is 1.4 per cent among adults aged 15-49 years, women aged 15-49 years are more than twice as likely to be living with HIV than men (1.9 per cent versus 0.9 per cent.) It further says that the difference in HIV prevalence between women and men is greatest among younger adults, with young women aged 20-24 years more than three times as likely to be living with HIV as young men in the same age group.
Also, HIV prevalence among children aged 0-14 years is 0.2 per cent. There is no doubt that significant efforts have been made in recent times to stop new HIV infections among children. Out of the six geo-political zones in the country, the South-South has the highest HIV prevalence, at 3.1 per cent among adults. The North-Central has high HIV prevalence with 2.1 per cent while the South-East has 1.9 per cent.
The zones with lower prevalence rate are South-West, 1.2 per cent, North-East, 1.1 per cent and the North-West, 0.6 per cent. While we welcome the government’s initiative to halt new HIV infections, we urge our development partners and other stakeholders to support the effort.