World AIDS Day: Nigeria second largest AIDS epidemic in the world

—Over 700,000 on anti retroviral drug
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru

As Nigeria joined the world in celebrating the World AIDS Day, the country still remains second largest AIDS epidemic in the world and with shortage of testing kits and anti retroviral drugs.

The Country Director of One Campaign, an international advocacy group, Serah Makka-Ugbabe disclosed this in Abuja yesterday on a workshop on the role of Primary Healthcare facilities in addressing the HIV/AIDS Epidemic.

The Country Director lamented that most people that were willing to test to know their status often times became disappointed as a result of lack of test kits and the drugs for those that are living with the virus.

She said as a global member based advocacy organisation that get people to join them and advocate for causes, the primary aim of One Campaign was to eliminate poverty and that the organization was looking at the health sector in Nigeria.

She said, “We want to find out what it takes to ensure that every Nigeria that is living with HIV/Aids or that gets the disease is treated. Nigeria has the second largest Aids epidemic in the world and also has the worst treatment in the world.

“When you can have your drugs for HIV/Aids, you reduce your virus load and the disease can become dormant but the problem is that many people don’t get access to the treatment especially those in the rural communities because the primary healthcare is not working.

“We have to put pressure on the government to make sure that they work so that people can have access to care and treatments because the fewer the people have access, the more it spreads, so it is a danger situation.”

Also speaking, the Secretary of Primary Healthcare Revitalization Support Group, Dr. John Onyeokoro said that the government at different levels needed to spend more on health, adding that the one percent care fund which was recently approved for the primary healthcare was not in the budget.

He said, “Abuja declaration in 2001 by Heads of States stipulates that the National government spends 15 percent of their budget on health. What we are saying now is that beyond that stipulation, it is also important that when we ask for increased funding, we should be able to demonstrate that the ones they are giving us, we are using them well.

“Our take as civil society is that there should be more accountability in the part of government and on the part of those who are utilising the healthcare services. When you demonstrate that the little they are giving you, you are using it well, you will be given more. I can tell you that there are a lot of wastages in this system. It is that wastage that should not be encouraged.”

Dr. Chukwugozie Ujam, Assistant Director of Policy and Strategy of the National Agency for the Control of Aids, NACA, in an interview, commended the Federal Government for the efforts it had put in place to reduce the scourge.

He, however, said that it was important that as a country “we take responsibility by ourselves, we can tell donors when they arrive what we want them to do and not their own agenda.”

Also speaking, Dr. Laz Udeze said that the country could do better on HIV.

“We are in an enviable position as a country with second highest number of cases in the world. Which means if the world has to solve the problem of HIV, then Nigeria has a key role to play.

“We have made some progress, we must admit that at some point the national prevalent rate was 5.8 percent and currently it is about three percent. We have much more persons who are on anti ritroviral drugs, over 700,000, but that is just about a third of the persons who are eligible and we also have the national target of the 909090 which we are working towards to meet.

“Our responsibility as citizens is to ensure that we go for HIV counselling and testing. Everyone should make effort to go for testing. Of course, the flip side is in some cases you don’t have even the test kits, we have people who go for test and they are told that there are no test kits and in some cases not everybody could afford it.

“So the authorities, the government at both state, local and national have to make sure that there are test kits.

“We have to make sure that we scale-up the treatment, there should be availability of drugs because what sense is it that someone tests and is positive and cannot be on treatment.

“So, it is only a nightmare for the person knowing that he is positive and cannot take anti retroviral drugs.”

He said “When treatment started in this country for HIV, it looked like a very daunting task but a lot of work has been put into it and we are managing it now and people are becoming more aware.

“We understand that that it is only a one third of individuals who have the virus are on treatment. We still need to close that gap and ensure they are placed on treatment.”

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