Media practitioners have been tasked to make government accountable on expenditure of funds in the fight against HIV in Nigeria.
Premium Times Publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi, gave this advice at a media parley organised by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Abuja on Monday, against the backdrop of limited contribution by government to funding the fight in Nigeria.
Foreign donors, especially the United States Government, provide about 95 per cent of the funds for the treatment of people living with HIV in Nigeria.
Uncomfortable with the situation, Mr Olorunyomi called on journalists, as society watchdogs, to make the government accountable to citizens on health, especially those living with HIV/AIDS.
He made the appeal in the keynote address at the unveiling of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s “Keep the Promise” to AIDS video campaign, which set a tone for government and partners in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.
The publisher advised journalists to understand the connection between the HIV community care givers and those working in the front line of HIV/AIDS, as this will enable them do their job better.
Mr Olorunyomi said as journalists, they need to look at where the problem is in order to propound solutions.
He said looking at the varying statistics of about 3.1 to 3.4 million people in 18 states living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, the question journalists should be asking themselves is how they would feel if they suddenly realise that a whole state is the target of the problem the country is facing.
“It is at this interface of the good commitment that I want to try to bring the statutory grounds for us to understand the direction to go. This is the framework in which I am charging my colleagues here to look at this as a serious problem we are dealing with here,” he said.
He challenged health journalism in the country to go back to the first principle of their profession, which is “why do we do journalism?”
Mr Olorunyomi said the Nigerian Constitution itself offers only the media, not the parliament or other institutions, the power to hold all forms of power accountable and as such, journalism needs to be accountability driven.
“We need to use that power to entrench the public health matter we have all been talking about. I think health journalism is the most important part of journalism. It is impossible to build a nation where people are not healthy, the whole goal and aspiration comes to nothing.
“If it is truth that the society deteriorates to the extent that journalism has deteriorated, I am proposing that health journalism should take the problem we are facing with HIV/AIDS funding as one of the most basic things to try to respond to,” he added.
Mr Olorunyomi lamented that Nigeria still largely depends on foreign donors in the fight against the disease as 95 per cent funding for HIV treatment in the country comes from the US government and Global Funds.
“The point that is most scandalous for me is when you look at the aggregate, it is clear that out of pocket spending for health in Nigeria is one of the highest in Africa, at 72 per cent. There is no way this can be something acceptable,” he said.
The Director-General, National Agency for Control of AIDS, Sani Aliyu, in his remark said Nigeria now has about 1.1 million Nigerians on treatment for HIV.
Mr Aliyu admitted 95 per cent of those on treatment are predominately funded by the U.S. government and Global Funds but said the Nigeria government is not comfortable with the situation and is committed to changing those figures.
“This is a huge number. Most of them are doing very well, they are able to access their treatment, they are able to go out and look after their families by bringing bread to the table and they are living a normal life. All thanks to the availability of treatment,” he said about those living with the disease.
The DG said in other to change the narrative, the media needs to improve on its advocacy and get more state governments to invest in the cause.
He said the fight against HIV and putting more people living with the disease on treatment would be achievable if state governments fund HIV programmes in their states.
“We have to invest in HIV treatment. Globally, the rest of the world is moving on and people are placed on treatment, so it should not be a problem for Nigeria.
“We want the state governments to implement the cost of HIV programmes in their budget. It was agreed that one per cent of their monthly federal allocation will go to HIV treatment. If this is done, the fight against the disease would improve tremendously,” he said.