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 optimistism that the virus will be controlled in Nigeria in the next 18 months.
The NACA boss who disclosed this at LEADERSHIP Podcast show yesterday, 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 his assumption as DG, the figure had doubled to about 1.6 million.
“When I resumed office in 2019, I requested the list of Nigerians living with HIV and those that were on treatment. We were able to identify 800,000 of them. We decided to go back to the drawing board and see how we can bring in the one million people that were not on treatment.
“We have already started community outreaches, so we expanded our activities by providing access to HIV services to the general population. We also embarked on sensitisation campaigns, educating Nigerians that HIV no longer kills. Even though there is no cure yet, we let them know that with the Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, they can live a normal life,” Gambo explained.
With this pattern of counselling, the DG said a lot of Nigerians responded by coming forward to ascertain their HIV status. Once they are HIV positive, they already know what to do and where to access treatment which are provided all over the country, he added.
“I am happy to say that, as of today, we have identified 1.6 million people living with HIV. We are comfortable about this because based on the data available to us and the information that we have, HIV is now sufficiently under control.
“In the next 18 months, we are striving to put the remaining 200,000 on treatment. In that way, HIV will be under control. We are very optimistic we will achieve it because we are at the verge of reaching that bridge, and once we reach that bridge we will let everyone know that HIV is relatively under control in Nigeria,” he said.
Gambo further explained, “When I say control, I am saying that we will be able to halt the spread of the virus. People will no longer transmit it and the virus won’t be able to kill those that have it because the ARV treatment will suppress the virus to the extent that they can live a normal life.
“Because the virus is suppressed, they won’t be able to infect others and that will reduce new HIV infection in the country. Once that is done, we will be able to keep HIV within people that have it, until we get a cure. We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel and we are optimistic we will be able to achieve this in 18 months.”
“Part of the plans of the agency to achieve the control of HIV in the country is to expand access to HIV services to key population (sex workers, men having sex with men, etc.) who are at risk of acquiring HIV and transmitting it to others, and to halt mother-to-child-transmission which the agency has not done much over the years,” Gambo said.
Going forward, the DG said the next one year will be marked as the year of fighting mother-to-child transmission, as the country will witness massive campaign of Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT).
“We will look for pregnant women with HIV at their place of worship, market place, at their homes, wherever they can be found and wherever they are comfortable to receive our services. If they want to do it by themselves, we will provide the kits for them, because now you can do the test by yourself and at the comfort of your home,” he said.
In terms of funding, Gambo revealed that global funding to fight HIV, tuberculosis and malaria and the support from the Nigerian government have helped in the fight against the virus in the country.
He however identified stigmatisation and discrimination as challenges faced by people living with the virus. To tackle these challenges, the DG said an agency had been set up to protect the rights of people living with HIV in the country.
“Once their rights are breached, they can report to the human rights division of that agency, which will ensure that justice is dispensed and those involved received what they deserved. We have informed the HIV patient community and we are watching and waiting and we will definitely ensure that justice is served,” he assured