Tomorrow is World Aids Day. It is a day set aside to reflect on the havoc the dreaded HIV virus has done to humanity and the need for concerted efforts to eliminate or at least control it within a manageable extent.
For those who do not know, HIV is a virus that damages the immune system and if untreated results in the deadly Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The immune system 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 and cancers.
Additionally,HIV is transmitted through body fluids that include:blood, semen, vaginal and rectal fluids and breast milk among others.
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 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 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%) and Zambia (11.3%), the size of Nigeria’s population means 1.9 million people were living with HIV in 2018.
According to a report by Avert, six states in Nigeria account for 41% of people living with HIV, including Kaduna, Akwa Ibom, Benue, Lagos, Oyo, and Kano.7 HIV prevalence is highest in the South South Zone and stands at 5.5%. It is lowest in the southeast where there is a prevalence of 1.8%. There are higher rates of HIV in rural areas (4%) than in urban ones (3%).
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% of those with a positive diagnosis in Nigeria are accessing antiretroviral treatment (ART).
Regrettably , according to a UNICEF report ,320 children and adolescents died every day from AIDS-related causes in 2018, or 13 every hour, according to a global snapshot on children, HIV and AIDS .
Low access to antiretroviral treatment, in addition to limited prevention efforts, is a leading cause for these deaths, with only 54 per cent of children aged 0-14 living with HIV in 2018 – or 790,000 children – receiving lifesaving antiretroviral therapy.
However, it is gratifying to note that the prevalence of HIV/ AIDS in Nigeria is reducing drastically thanks to public enlightenment and surveillance.
Refreshingly,United States Deputy Head of Mission to Nigeria, Ms Kathleen FlitzGibbon recently disclosed that for the first time in modern history, US has opportunity to control the HIV epidemic in Nigeria.
This Newspaper believes that the move by the Nigeria Governors Forum to make HIV testing and treatment completely free will go a long way to reduce the prevalence of the disease in the country.The stigma associated with the disease has lessened in recent times as HIV is no longer a death sentence like it used to be .
Furthermore, we call on the federal and state governments to intensify public enlightenment and training of officials on the dangers of HIV/ AIDS. Health centers in the states and rural areas should be adequately equipped with free HIV drugs.The National Agency for the control of AIDS( NACA) should be funded adequately to carry out its mandate .
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. Religious leaders are in a better stead to enforce abstinence since it is in line with the dictates of the dominant religions in the country.