“Nigeria accounts for 21 per cent of new infections in children globally,” the American Ambassador said.
The United States Government said on Thursday that it had spent $3 billion on Nigeria’s health sector capacity building programmes in 10 years.
The U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Terence McCulley, said this during a tour of the primary health centre in Masaka, Nasarawa State.
“We’ve been partners of the Nigerian government in the HIV and AIDS campaign since 2004,” he said.
“Over the past 10 years, we have provided about three billion U.S. dollars; last year alone 500 million U.S. dollars.
“It is the single most important assistance programme we have in Nigeria and I’m very proud of the work we do with our Nigerian partners,” he added.
The tour was organised by the U.S. Embassy to observe the progress made on Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV in the country.
The programme is supported by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Mr. McCulley said the three billion dollars was to support the U.S. Government’s 10-year partnership with Nigeria to fight HIV and AIDS, including prevention, treatment and care programmes.
“We recognise that as we combat HIV and AIDS, we also need to look at other opportunistic infections like TB, polio and malaria because these are serious public health issues as well.
“So, while the bulk of our assistance is going to HIV and AIDS, we recognise that going forward we need to look at a holistic approach to the public health issues confronting Nigeria.”
He said the PMTCT service reduced the likelihood of mother-to-child transfer of the virus from 40 per cent to two per cent.
The envoy said estimates from UNAIDS showed that by the end of 2011, about 3.1 million Nigerians were living with HIV and 300,000 new infections occurred.
He said that more than half of the 300,000 new infections involved children, adding that more needed to be done to reduce mother-to-child prevalence of HIV and AIDS in the country.
“Nigeria accounts for 21 per cent of new infections in children globally.
“Increasing PMTCT services is one way to mitigate the impact of HIV on women and ensure an AIDS free generation to come, but more needs to be done.
“Thanks to PEPFAR, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS and the Federal Ministry of Health, a massive scale-up of PMTCT services has begun in Nigeria,” the ambassador said.
He added that “over the past year, we have increased the number of PEPFAR-supported sites offering PMTCT services from 895 to more than 1,355.
“As of September 2012, PEPFAR support had helped nearly five million women in Nigeria to receive PMTCT and HIV and AIDS related services.
“PEPFAR is committed to ensuring that by the end of 2013, an additional 2.5 million pregnant women in PEPFAR supported sites will know their HIV status.
“(Currently), 65,000 HIV positive pregnant women receive PMTCT drug regimens to reduce HIV transmission to their infants, and at least 80 per cent of identified expose infants will have access to care and support services, but this is only a start.’’
Mr. McCulley said that the number of sites in Nasarawa State had increased from 39 to 165 with a further plan for expansion and commended the efforts of the state government and health workers for their contributions.
He commended efforts to combat HIV and AIDS in the country and pledged the support of the U.S. government towards promoting health services in the country.
Also speaking, Jerry Gwamna, Unit Leader of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, expressed concern over the limited counseling and testing service for pregnant women, adding that only less than 20 per cent of women received such services.
Mr. Gwamna said the Federal Government had produced a plan to scale-up PMTCT services in Nigeria to address the challenge.
“NACA and the Federal Ministry of Health have prioritised for the scale-up this year, we call it the first phase focusing on the high prevalence states.
“Some of such states include Benue State, Nasarawa State, the Federal Capital Territory itself some from the east and a few others from upper north, including Kaduna and Kano States,” he said.
“Those are the states that have been prioritised for the first phase which is up to 2013; by 2014 we’ll be considering some other phase.
“The whole idea is that we don’t have the resources to reach everybody at once but we look at where we are likely to get those women who are likely to be HIV positive who actually need these services more so that we prevent those babies from getting infected.”
He said the support Nigeria got from the U.S. and other donors served as “ad-on programmes” targeted at specific disease entities. He said that government at all levels was making commitments to provide counterpart funding to support the scale-up programme to reach out to more people living with the virus.
Mr. Gwamna said that the government was committed to addressing the challenges hampering effective health delivery in the country.