incidences on HIV/AIDS that occurred in Nigeria in 2016, one has the potency to stick to the mind in the fold of a landmark. And this is more in the manner and circumstance it occurred.
The day was Tuesday, November 29, 2016, and the event was the opening ceremony of the 2016 edition of the National HIV/AIDS prevention conference in Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.
Just as the Minister of State for Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire mounted the rostrum to give his speech, a group of women carrying placards with various inscriptions barged into the Congress Hall (Hall 4), venue of the event.
Numbering about 40, the women, wearing orange T-shirts upon black skirts and trousers, marched in a single file to the front of the rostrum and lined up facing the minister with their placards, while backing the audience.
Before the over 3,000 participants could fathom what was amiss, a voice obviously cracked by anger, came through the loud speaker explaining the situation.
The voice belonged to Ms Lucy A Enyia, who introduced herself as the National Coordinator of Society for Women and Children Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (SOWCHAN).
Their grievances, she said, had to do with the lack of necessary attention to the plight of PLWHIV in Nigeria, which had led to unwarranted suffering and death of many HIV/AIDS positive persons.
“What actually prompted the protest is the challenges PLWHIV are subjected to in the country … people are suffering, the health budget is very low, and little or nothing is continually being spent on HIV/AIDS by the government.
“African leaders made promises almost 12 years ago that they would increase heath budget to 15 per cent. But up till now, Nigeria has not gotten up to 5 per cent, we are still low, just 4.13 per cent”, she lamented.
She explained further that out of the 4.13 percent, 88% go for salaries, leaving just 12 per cent for sundry health issues.
Enyia, the mother of three continued”, almost all the activities carried out on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria are donor-driven. The donors contribute 75%, while Nigeria contributes only 25%.
“So, we are asking the government to take ownership, it is our right, they have to give us good health as citizens of this country. We need to have access to good health”, she concluded.
In an exclusive interview at the occasion, Prof. Idoko buttressed Enyia’s stance when he stated that about 90% of HIV treatment care and support are provided by donor agencies.
According to him, this has been the major concern of stakeholders in the fight against HIV/AIDS, who have consistently stressed the need for political leaders in the country to invest more money in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support.
While acknowledging that the United States, government and its agencies constitute a greater part of donors to HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, he imagined what the situation would be if the in-coming leadership decides to opt out of donations to Nigeria.
“Donald Trump, U.S President-elect, is just coming. He might decide to cancel all that U.S government is doing on treatment, care and support programmes in Nigeria.
“What do we do at that point? Do we just lament? No! we have money here, there are rich people and rich government. We need to make them put money into HIV programmes”, he said.
Prof. Idoko’s stance is in obvious contradiction of that of his successor at NACA, Dr Sani Aliju, who hinted that in terms of preventing new HIV infections, Nigeria has done 90% of what is required.
“From the perspective of preventing new HIV infections, as a country, we are only 10% away from reaching the magic tipping point.
“However, the speed at which we are reducing new HIV infections needs to accelerate if we must meet our fast track targets by 2020,” the NACA D.G said.
Meanwhile, he acknowledged the fact that all achievements in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Nigeria would not have been possible without the commitment of donor agencies such as World Bank, PEPFAR, Global Fund, United Nations and its agencies.
In the face of apparent gradual withdrawal of support by donor agencies, Dr Aliju still relied on recording a break through in HIV/AIDS, treatment, care and support with continued support from donor agencies.
“I implore them all (donor agencies) not to relent in their financial and technical support to HIV prevention programme in Nigeria.
“The sustained and increased investment in HIV prevention is necessary if we must consolidate on the success recorded thus far”, he said.
Explaining the contributions of U.S government in Nigeria’s fight against HIV/AIDS, the Country Director, U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Abuja, Nigeria, Dr Hank Tomlinson said at the conference that the U.S government as at 2003 spent N4 billion in HIV prevention, care and treatment in Nigeria.
Among other contributions, he said currently, PEPFAR alone has provided life-saving ARV theraphy for 700,000 Nigerians This does not include what other donor agencies have done in this wise.
When this is analysed vis-a-vis what the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewale said about over 800,000 Nigerians being on ARV theraphy in Nigeria, the question that readily comes to mind is: how much has the Nigerian government invested in this wise? And this is only in the provision of ARV for the established over 800,000 PLWHIV.
While enumerating and acknowledging the successes recorded in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, and the contributions made by donor agencies, the U.S representative assured that his country will redouble its commitment. He was however emphatic in the fact that such commitment will not be in terms of financial support.
The Minister of Health, who represented President Muhamadu Buhari at the 2016 World AIDS Day, acknowledged that more needs to be done, “If Nigeria must achieve the 90 90 90 of an AIDS free generation by 2030”.
The first step towards this end, he said, is that “the president has personally pledged $10 million to the Global Fund replenishment exercise that took place in Canada”.
He also promised to address “all the bottlenecks” affecting HIV prevention, treatment, care and support in the country.
How effectively and efficiently this can be executed, is, however, what stakeholders in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Nigeria will look up to.
Right now it is no more news that so much have been invested in HIV/AIDS mostly by donor agencies. It is also not news that given the part played by these international donor agencies, the Nigerian government requires relatively little contribution to complement that of the donors towards the ultimate goal of attaining the vision 90 90 90 target.
What, therefore should be of concern to key stakeholders at all levels is having the will to make identifiable contributions. Not just in terms of necessary policy formation, but also in the execution of such policies, which include the 15 per cent of budget commitment to health and what percent should go to HIV/AIDS response.
Among other benefits, this is capable of giving a clearer picture of Nigeria’s investment in HIV, and may encourage the donor to have a rethink in their gradual withdrawal.
Several speakers had made presentations on HIV/AIDS. They included the immediate past Director General (DG) of the National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS (NACA), Prof. John Idoko, President of Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS (NEPWHAN), Mr Victor Omosehin, and the current D.G of NACA, Dr Sani Aluju.