As the world celebrates the World AIDS Day today, a survey has shown that 75.6 Nigerian children living with HIV are not on treatment.
This figure undermines Nigeria’s chances of achieving the global target of the goal to end Mother-to Child Transmission (MTCT) of HIV by 2020.
Nigeria, like other countries of the world, is committed to the goal of ending mother-to-child transmission of HIV by year 2020.
Achieving this goal has, however, remained a tall order to the Nigerian government and other relevant stakeholders.
A report by the National AIDS and STD Control Programme (NASCP) 2017 showed that Nigeria is expected to have 9,764,286 pregnant women annually, but the number of new pregnant women accessing antenatal care stood at 4,025,074 (40.9 per cent). Of this number, 64,811 (39.2 per cent) tested positive to HIV.
The report revealed that the number of HIV positive women on antiretroviral drugs in the country is 50,890 (78.5 per cent), while the children living with HIV/AIDS in the country is 221,729, with only 54,167 of hem, or 24.4 per cent, on antiretroviral therapy (ART), leaving 75.6 per cent without treatment.
UNAIDS Report 2017 put the figure of HIV infected children higher, at 267,000 or 12.4 per cent of the global burden.
According to the report, Nigeria contributes the largest proportion of new vertically acquired HIV infections among children.
LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered that the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and its partners have initiated series of strategies aimed at achieving this goal.
In spite of these ongoing efforts, many babies are still being born with HIV in the country with 2020 just around the corner.
To achieve the goal of eliminating MTCT of HIV, at least 90 per cent of HIV infected women must have access to comprehensive prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV services, including anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) during pregnancy, labour, delivery and breastfeeding periods.
LEADERSHIP Weekend’s findings showed that there are significant missed opportunities for testing pregnant women who attend antenatal care across the country.
Experts have attributed some of the gaps to poor funding on the part of government, ignorance especially among pregnant women in the rural areas, stigmatisation and discrimination.
It was, however, gathered that NACA, with support from international partners, is striving to surmount the challenges by removing barriers to HIV testing. Part of its strategies is improving access to HIV testing through ongoing widespread availability of self-test kits.
Speaking at a press briefing in commemoration of the 2018 World Aids Day, with the theme, “Know You Status”, the director-general of NACA, Dr Sani Aliyu, said that in the last two years, significant resources had been channelled towards eliminating TMTC in the country.
He however said that, “While we have made some progress, a lot of children are being born with HIV. Only about 50 per cent of pregnant women go for antenatal. The challenge is about bringing the mothers to access antenatal so that they can get tested.”
Aliyu however said the agency was working in the area of advocacy, trying to increase knowledge of the mothers, especially those in the rural areas while calling for champions from all social sectors to join hands with NACA in addressing the cultural and social barriers that impact on acceptance and uptake of antenatal care services.
“We will not relent until we eliminate TMTC,” he said.
Also, speaking at the World Aids Day commemoration event in Abuja, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, noted that, every year, about nine million adults are tested for HIV, with about two million being pregnant women.
Osinbajo described the development as a clear affirmation of the present government’s goal to eliminate Mother-to-Child- transmission of HIV.
On stigmatisation and discrimination, LEADERSHIP Weekend recalls that former President Goodluck Jonathan passed into law the Anti-stigmatization bill in 2014.
The Act makes provisions for the prevention of HIV and AIDS-based discrimination and protects the fundamental human rights and dignity of people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS in the country.
But in spite of the existence of this Act, discrimination against people living with HIV/AID has remained a setback to achieving these set goals.
Recently, NACA decried work place discrimination based on HIV status. The agency feared that employment-related stigma and discrimination has continued to constitute a major threat to the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
According to the director general of NACA, Dr Sani Aliyu, “a 2012 study of stigma among people living with HIV in the country showed that 26 per cent of those surveyed had lost a job or source of income in the past year due to HIV-related stigma.
“People living with HIV/AIDS have a fundamental right to work, just like everybody else. Stigma and discrimination are potent threats to this right and they undermine the opportunities for people to obtain decent employment.”
A four-month pregnant woman, Mrs Ubong, who works with one of the federal agencies in Abuja, said she visited a health facility when she was two-month pregnant and, as expected, she was asked to carry out HIV test.
According to her, she was very confident because it is her third pregnancy and she had never tested positive to HIV. But she got the biggest shock of her life when she was given her result and she found out that she was positive.
Mrs Ubong said even though she was given counselling by the nurses who handed her the test result, she has never gone back for antennal because of the fear of stigma and discrimination.
“Many of my colleagues use the same hospital and I don’t want them to find out that I am HIV positive because there is a man in our office whom everyone in the office knows has HIV, you need see how people avoid him in the office – nobody likes to share anything like spoon or cup with him. Even the day he got a cut in his finger and was bleeding, no body made an attempt to help him because everybody was scared of being infected. I can’t wish that kind of situation on my enemy so I have decided to stay away from the hospital so that my colleagues who also visit the hospital don’t get to know of my status.”
The national coordinator, Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN), Victor Omosaye, in his remarks at the press briefing, decried the existence of discrimination in the society in spite of the anti-discrimination Act.
On funding, Osinbajo, at the World AIDS Day event, reaffirmed the federal government’s commitment to increased funding for HIV response and ensuring universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services.
He also said that government was committed to supporting an additional 50,000 persons commencing HIV treatment every year in the budget.
The NACA DG boss noted that the agency had been working on strengthening its engagement with the Private Sector in Nigeria through the Nigeria Business Coalition Against AIDS (NIBUCAA) in a bid to increase domestic funding for HIV towards a more sustainable management.
According to him, the HIV Trust Fund, which would soon be launched, would provide the platform for more concrete contributions from the private sector.
He, therefore, thanked the vice president for his leadership and support towards obtaining a commitment from state governors to fund HIV causes in their respective states with up to 1.0 per cent of their states’ monthly federal allocation.
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