In order to curb HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, a diplomat from the United States has appealed for concerted efforts from all Nigerians, saying the war against the disease cannot be fought by institutions alone.
The United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington , made the appeal at an awards ceremony in honour and recognition of “PEPFAR Nigeria Heroes:16 individuals who have made truly momentous contributions to PEPFAR’s mission since the inception of the life-saving programme.”
The programme held in Abuja on Monday.
PEPFAR is the US government’s response to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and helps save the lives of those suffering from the disease. It was launched by U.S. President George Bush in 2003.
The official said the war against the disease cannot be fought by one institution or group of officials ‘tasked by the government’, “people, not programmes solve problems and they only do it by working together.”
The envoy said the prevalence of the disease poses a big threat. He urged the Nigerian government to ensure that its citizens know their status for effective treatment options.
‘1.6 million women tested’
Similarly, the permanent secretary of the ministry of health, Abdullahi Abdullahi, said 1.6 million pregnant women have been tested for HIV in a bid to prevent the transfer of the virus from mothers to children.
He also said more than 1.2 million orphans and vulnerable children received care and support.
The permanent secretary, who was represented by the former senior special assistant to the immediate past health minister, Araoye Segilola, said Nigeria remains committed to increasing domestic funding for HIV control.
“Based on the results of the recently concluded Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact survey(NAIIS), seven states with significant burden and high treatment gap have been identified to receive targetted interventions. The states are Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Enugu, Imo, Lagos and Rivers,” he said.
He said the U.S. government has spent over $4billion on national HIV/AIDS response in Nigeria in the last 15 years.
Similarly, the Pharmaceutical Commodities Logistics Manager of USAID, Babatunji Odelola, said there is a new drug “that just came out for HIV/AIDS treatment.”
According to him, the drugs is called TLD and Nigeria is one of the countries to receive this “because of the kind of commitment and dedication we have from the government.”
”TLD is an antiretroviral drug and it is able to achieve what we call viral suppression very quickly. So someone who is on TLD for four to five months will notice that the virus in his body will start reducing to significant levels such that the person, cannot re-infect somebody else and that drug is now available for us in Nigeria to use,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES had earlier reported that many Nigerians do not know about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which is a practice of using antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV infection.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is the use of a pill called Truvada to prevent the acquisition of HIV infection by uninfected persons.
Truvada is the combination of two antiretroviral medications (Tenofovir + Emtricitabine) to prevent the virus from spreading through the body.
Studies have shown that Truvada can prevent HIV infection in up to 90 per cent of cases if the pill is taken daily at more or less the same time.
Among recipient of the heroes award is late Babatunde Osotimehin who died June 2017.
Some of the awardees who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said Nigerians should stop stigmatising and start accepting anyone living with HIV/AIDS.
Patrick Matemilola said “there are many living witnesses showing that one can live healthy with HIV especially now with programmes”.
Mr Matemilola, who is also living with HIV/AIDS said stigmatisation remains the real problem. ”HIV itself does not cause any sickness until one starts developing opportunistic infections.”
“We used to tell people who are HIV positive, there is the external stigma from other people but the worst is when people who are living with HIV stigmatise themselves. So when you overcome self-stigma and you can live a fairly normal life, even like me, you can live without drugs if you know how to take care of yourself,” he said.
A journalist, Tobore Ovuorie, urged Nigerians to get tested and know their status.
PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported how the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) said Nigerian HIV/AIDs Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) indicates that about 1.9 million Nigerians are currently living with the disease.
The agency also said the percentage of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in Nigeria, among the age group of 15-49 years, is 1.4 per cent (1.9 per cent among females and 0.9 per cent among males).
The agency said viral suppression among PLHIV aged 15 to 49 years old with access to treatment stands at 42.3 per cent (45.3 per cent among women and 34.5 per cent among men).
The NAIIS result indicates that about 5.5 per cent of the people living with HIV in Nigeria are in Akwa Ibom State, followed by Benue State, which has about 5.3 per cent prevalence rate.
It also states that while the North-west had the lowest prevalence rate at 0.6 per cent, the South-south had the highest with 3.1 per cent.
However, Nigeria has shown steady progress by increasing access to treatment for people living with HIV, with the adoption of the ‘test and treat’ policy in 2016.