The recent assurance by Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo that Nigeria would eradicate the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) by 2030 is cheering and encouraging. Three years ago, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) set 2030 as the date to end AIDS as a public health threat globally.
Osinbajo explained at the 2018 World AIDS Day in Abuja on December 1, that part of efforts aimed at ending the epidemic was the commencement of the National AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) in all the 36 states of the federation and Abuja, a process that was flagged off by President Muhammadu Buhari in June this year.
Also speaking at the occasion, the Director General, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr. Sani Aliyu, said his agency had been working to facilitate the local manufacturing of HIV medicines.
Indeed, hardly can the world wait to end the AIDS scourge, a pandemic that has tormented humanity in the past six decades since its first discovery in 1959 in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In Nigeria, HIV/AIDS became a public health concern when the first two cases were reported at an international AIDS conference in 1986 after it was identified a year earlier. In 1987, the government established the National AIDS Advisory Committee (NAAC), shortly after, the National Expert Advisory Committee on AIDS (NEACA).
But it wasn’t until 1991 that the Federal Ministry of Health first assessed the AIDS situation in the country. The result showed that 1.8 per cent of the population was infected with HIV. The figures rose to 3.8 per cent in 1993; 4.5 per cent in 1996; 5.4 per cent in 1999 and 5.8 per cent in 2001.
The Olusegun Obasanjo administration made HIV prevention and treatment a major concern of government. The President’s Committee on AIDS and the National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA) were established by the Federal Government. Two years later, the government set up a three-year HIV/AIDS Emergency Action Plan (HEAP).
But even with all the efforts, it was discovered in 2006 that only ten per cent of HIV-infected women and men were receiving antiretroviral therapy, while only seven per cent of pregnant women were getting treatment to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
At present, the statistics of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Nigeria could be frightening. Nigeria is the country with the second-largest number of people living with HIV. Also, UNAIDS asserts that HIV prevalence in Nigeria is 3.2 percent among the adult population, which means that about 3.4 million Nigerians are living with HIV.
Last year, it was estimated that there was 2.8 percent HIV prevalence rate in adults between 15 and 49 years. There were 210, 000 new HIV infections and 150,000 AIDS-related deaths.
According to the last national survey, Benue State has the largest number of people living with HIV in the country, while six states account for 41 per cent of people living with HIV in the country. They include Benue, Kaduna, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Oyo and Kano. HIV prevalence is highest in the South-South where it stands at 5.5 per cent. The South-East has the lowest rate at 1.8 per cent.
About 150,000 people are believed to have died from AIDS-related illnesses in Nigeria in 2017. Available statistics also reveal that since 2005, only 33 percent of those that tested positive to HIV access antiretroviral treatment. The reduction in the number of annual AIDS-related deaths has been minimal.
Apart from having the second largest HIV epidemic in the world, Nigeria has one of the highest rates of new infection in sub-Saharan Africa. Regrettably, many people living with HIV in the country are not even aware of their status. Most Nigerians do not undergo HIV tests. The number of patients with access to antiretroviral treatment remains low.
If Nigeria aims to eradicate the disease by 2030, both the government and the people have a lot of work to do, beyond the usual promises and unbridled optimism.
Consistent public enlightenment, especially in the rural areas, must be revived by local, state and federal governments. Antiretroviral drugs must be made available to patients even in the remote areas. Nigerians must also develop the habit of voluntary HIV testing to determine their HIV status. Only then could there be any chance that Nigeria would join the rest of the world to eradicate HIV/AIDS by 2030.