The Human Immune-deficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has remained a global challenge for which there is no cure. In the three decades since the epidemic reached its height, 39 million people have died while 35 million people are living with the virus worldwide.
Most of the dead and infected are in sub-Saharan Africa or other low- and middle-income countries of the world. The social stigma remains, but medical advances have allowed people with the disease to live longer, healthier lives.
The first case of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria was reported in 1986. Since then, the number of people living with HIV or AIDS (PLWHA) has steadily increased with the epidemic moving into a ‘generalized’ state.
Data made available during the 2018 World AIDS Day had indicated that about 9.4 million were counselled and tested as regards HIV/AIDS in 2017, out of which 4.98 million were female and 4.031 male. It added that 239,542 persons tested positive (136,987 female and 102,555 male).
The report further revealed that only 18 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria are aware of their status, an indication that there is still a 52 percent gap in advocacy.
The HIV epidemic has further weakened and threatened to overwhelm the Nigerian health care system, increased the number of orphans and increased the cost of achieving set developmental goals by decreasing the size of the workforce, mainly adults in their most productive years of life (15-60 years).
The high manpower-intensive sectors of the economy are mostly affected including the agricultural, educational and health sectors as well as the rural economy.
In summary, the impact of HIV/AIDS on Nigeria’s social fabric and on its economic development and well-being continue to be pervasive and, unless controlled, will continue to undermine the quality of life of Nigerians.
There is high commitment to fight HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, as evidenced by the initiation of the Presidential Council on AIDS, the National AIDS/STD Control Programme (NASCP), and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) which is a multi-sectoral agency including members from many government ministries and civil society.
At the state level, State Action Committees on AIDS (SACA) have been established, while at the local level there are Local Action Committees on AIDS (LACA).
The mission of NACA is to provide an enabling policy environment and a stable ongoing facilitation of proactive multi-sectoral planning, coordinated implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all HIV/AIDS prevention and impact mitigation activities in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges in the HIV response has remained unchanged in the past years. HIV disproportionally affects people in vulnerable populations that are often highly marginalized and stigmatized.
Thus, most new HIV infections and deaths are seen in places where certain higher-risk groups remain unaware, underserved or neglected.
About 75% of new HIV infections outside sub-Saharan Africa are in men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, people in prisons, sex workers, or transgender people, or the sexual partners of these individuals. These are groups who are often discriminated against and excluded from health services.
The universal goal of HIV prevention and control is to reduce new infections to zero by 2030, but worries remain about gaps in the number of people receiving treatment in Nigeria.
With a population of about 9.4 million People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), an equivalent to 10 percent of the global HIV burden, only an estimated 1,093,233 are on treatment. Several hundreds of others that qualify for treatment are left out.
In 2013, 22 percent or 51,000 of all new child HIV infections that occurred globally were recorded in Nigeria and findings also show that the nation is not progressing as expected with its Prevention of Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV or PMTCT programme because thousands of HIV positive pregnant women that are not on treatment still transmit the virus to their babies during or after birth.
Nigerians appear to be resting on their oars with the false perception that HIV/AIDS no longer poses danger to our society.
We must therefore re-jig our information strategy to encourage behaviour change for key affected populations and urge all pregnant women to get screened for HIV. We must also invest more on PMTCT.
The message about HIV testing should be clear. Even with all the medical advances, it is essential to encourage HIV testing within the populace to ensure everyone knows their HIV status.
We must address complaints by people living with HIV/AIDS about dwindling access to treatment and join efforts to get international donors to renew interest in the funding for the eradication of the scourge.
Tackling the HIV epidemic with so many people not on treatment would be an exercise in futility. Therefore, the way to go is to ensure antiretroviral treatment is available and accessible for all people living with HIV.
Nigeria must also adhere strictly to the recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that everyone with a diagnosis of HIV should be placed on antiretroviral treatment as soon as possible, irrespective of viral load.