By Justina Auta, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
As the world marks World AIDS Day many countries have spent several billions of dollars in several interventions as they strive to halt its transmission and mitigate its impacts 37 years after the case of the infection was detected.
In 2022, the Federal Government said Nigeria, for instance, has spent about 6.2 billion dollars in various interventions since 2005, according to the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha at the inauguration of HIV Trust Fund in Nigeria.
Also, the U.S. government says it has invested 7.8 billion dollars in Nigeria under the President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), according to Melisa Jones, Mission Direction, USAID.
Funding seems to be paying off as recent figures indicate that HIV/AIDS prevalence in the country has been in decline recently
Mr Gambo Aliyu the Director-General of Nigeria’s National Agency for the Control for AIDS (NACA) said new HIV infections gradually declined from 103,404 in 2019 to 92,323 in 2021.
Aliyu told newsmen ahead of 2022 World AIDS that the decline was an indication that Nigeria would meet the UN of ending HIV/AIDS by 2030.
While Nigeria is seemingly making progress in cutting down the number of infections a hidden threat looms—mother-to-child transmission. Experts say it is now the leading channel of HIV/AIDS transmission.
They, therefore, warn that this trend if left unchecked could thwart Nigeria’s fight against the disease and consequently threaten the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), health components.
Sharing her experience at a meeting for women living with HIV recently in Abuja, Mrs Blessing, 36 years old mother of five said she is worried by her infected daughter’s reluctance to take her antiretroviral therapy (ART).
She said it usually takes lots of pleading, shouting and sometimes cajoling to make her take the drugs.
According to her, she tested positive shortly after delivering her last child. She said she noticed that the baby constantly fell ill and treatments were not yielding recovery as expected.
The situation is a product of mother-to-child transmission as Blessing did not know her HIV status even as she was pregnant because she did not attend antenatal.
“If I knew, I would have attended antenatal to enable me know my HIV status and take steps to prevent my child from contracting the disease from me,’’ she said.
Blessing’s experience is similar to that of many women who had knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the high number of mother to child HIV transmissions in the country.
Nigeria’s HIV intervention agency, NACA, a recent report said with an estimated 1.8 million persons living with HIV and AIDS, Nigeria has the second-largest burden of disease globally.
Aliyu also said that Nigeria was responsible for about 30 per cent of the world’s gap in Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT)
“Nigeria has the second-largest burden of HIV infection. Currently a total of 1.8 million persons are estimated to be living with HIV in Nigeria out of which about 1.63million are already on the lifesaving medication of ART.
“ Approximately 58 per cent are estimated to be female, and 42 per cent male.
“ The national average of mother-to-child transmission rate of 22 per cent is driven by a large number of states with transmission rates above 25 per cent and few states with rates below 15 per cent.
“Nigeria is responsible for about 30 per cent of the world’s gap in PMTCT,’’ he said.
The NACA chief said with community leaders’ engagement in HIV prevention, including PMTCT, Nigeria will be able to achieve the global target of ending AIDS by 2030.
“ Together, let us harness the collective leadership of communities and drive forward with unwavering resolve.
“Let our actions today shape a tomorrow where HIV/AIDS is a chapter of our past and where every individual can live a life of health, dignity, and hope,’’ he said.
Lending her voice to Aliyu’s Mrs Christy Awunor, Nassarawa State Nursing Coordinator, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) said arresting the spread of HIV in Nigeria would be a mirage if mother to child transmission graph continues its upwards curve
Citing the 2020 National Guidelines for HIV Prevention, Treatment and Care Awunor said there was an increase in the number of children contracting HIV from their mothers.
Awunor said this compelled AHF to key into PMTCT components of HIV prevention campaigns through mentorship of women.
“It is a cascade of its own and one of the components is mentoring mothers who are HIV positive and have children that are HIV negative because of the treatment.”
“And because they have passed through the process, it makes it easier for them to speak to other new mothers about the infection and how they can actually take care of themselves in order to have babies without the virus,”
`Mothers trained as counsellors advise and share their personal experiences on how to protect babies from being infected, it helps in reducing prevalence and increasing access to ART,’’ she said.
Experts say funding and sensitisation remain leading challenges facing PMTCT.
Amobi Ogah, Chairman, House Committee on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Control (ARM) agrees and assures that the parliament was working towards increasing budgetary allocation to NACA and to boost HIV prevention efforts, including mother to child transmission.
“I call on the global fund and other donor agencies and NGOs to increase their financial support and assistance to meet the 2030 targets of ending HIV/AIDS.
“The fact that national coverage of PMTCT is less than 50 per cent leading to about 22,000 cases of mother to child transmission of HIV every year in Nigeria has to change for the better“, she said.
Mr Abdulkadir Ibrahim, National Coordinator of the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NEPWHAN) advised the government against largely depending on donor organisations and NGOS for support in ending the disease in the country.
Ibrahim urged the government to prioritise manufacturing ARV drugs to serve all the West African countries, thereby generating revenue, strengthening ties with other countries and creating easy access to ARV drugs.
“Government needs to go beyond relying on donors. What the government is putting on the table is actually small.
“We want this new administration to change the practice of importing drugs annually, we should look forward to manufacturing these drugs locally.
“I see no reason why Nigeria cannot move towards that direction; we have all the competencies that can make Nigeria serve the whole West African region; we can even generate income for the economy,’’ he said.
Although significant progress has been made in addressing HIV and AIDS, more needs to be put in place to meet the target of halting the spread and one area to prioritise in that regard is PMTCT. (NANFeatures)
**If used please credit the writer and News Agency of Nigeria.