Yesterday, December 1, was World Aids Day. It is a day set aside every year to call attention to the impact of that dreaded disease and the effort being made to contain it. It is instructive to note that HIV is a virus that damages the immune system that helps the body fight off infections. Untreated HIV infects and kills CD4 cells, which are a type of immune cell called T cells. Over time, as HIV kills more CD4 cells, the body is more likely to get various types of infections such as free radicals or opportunistic infections like tuberculosis and cancer.
Additionally, HIV is transmitted through body fluids that include: blood semen, vaginal and rectal fluids, breast milk. The virus doesn’t spread in air or water, or through casual contact. HIV is a lifelong condition and currently, there is no cure, although many scientists are working to find one. However, with medical care, including a treatment called antiretroviral therapy, it’s possible to manage HIV and live with the virus for many years.
Without treatment, a person with HIV is likely to develop a serious condition called AIDS. At that point, the immune system is too weak to fight off other diseases and infections. Untreated, life expectancy with AIDS is about three years. With antiretroviral therapy, HIV can be well-controlled and life expectancy can be nearly the same as someone who has not contracted HIV.
Sadly, Nigeria has had the second-largest HIV epidemic in the world since the disease found its way into the country in the 1980s. Although HIV prevalence among adults is much less (1.5 per cent) than other sub-Saharan African countries such as South Africa (20.4 per cent) and Zambia (11.3 per cent), the size of Nigeria’s population means 1.9 million people as at 2018 were living with the virus.
A recent report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that one child was infected with HIV every two minutes in 2020. The report also stated that at least 300,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2020 while another 120,000 children died from AIDS-related causes during the same period.
“In Nigeria, almost eight out of 10 new infections occurring in adolescents aged 10-19 occur in adolescent girls, while an estimated 83,000 pregnant women in Nigeria are HIV positive,” the report revealed. Regrettably, 150,000 children live with HIV in Nigeria and only 80,000 receive regular treatment.
In the considered opinion of this Newspaper, every unborn child has the right to be protected from HIV. Indeed, a child can be protected from having HIV. Access to pregnant mothers living with HIV is limited. Government officials need to go closer to the communities and sensitise them on the dangers of HIV.
Low access to antiretroviral treatment, in addition to limited prevention efforts, is a leading cause of death among HIV patients. It is gratifying to note that the director-general, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) in Nigeria, Dr. Aliyu Gambo, has said the agency had recorded more success in the last three years than it had ever achieved in nearly two decades while expressing optimism that the virus will be controlled in Nigeria in the next 18 months.
The NACA boss who disclosed this at the LEADERSHIP Podcast show, said findings from the 2018 Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS), revealed that about 1.8 million Nigerians are living with HIV. From 2005 to 2018, Gambo said only 800,000 Nigerians living with the virus were identified, adding that since coming into office, the figure has doubled to about 1.6 million.
Approximately 150,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in Nigeria in 2017. Since 2005, the reduction in the number of annual AIDS-related deaths has been minimal, indicative of the fact that only 33 per cent of those with a positive diagnosis in Nigeria are accessing antiretroviral treatment (ART).
Similarly, the United States mission revealed that over 10 million Nigerians have received HIV testing in 2021 due to its AIDS relief program. According to the statement, PEPFAR has invested more than $6 billion in the national HIV/AIDS response in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, in our opinion, stigmatization is still a problem in the fight against HIV. Nigerians need to know that the disease is not a death sentence. From the foregoing, we call on government at all levels to intensify public enlightenment and training of officials on the dangers of HIV/ AIDS. Health centres in the states and rural areas should be adequately equipped with free HIV drugs.
It is also important to suggest that NACA should be funded adequately to carry out its mandate. We recall that the Covid -19 pandemic also affected global response and collaboration towards stemming the spread of HIV. We also believe that religious leaders have a major role to play in stemming the tide of the disease as abstinence is a major factor in reducing the prevalence of the disease in the country.