By PATIENCE AKPURU and OGE OKONKWO
Country Director, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Dr. Salami Olawale, has said that about 300,000 Nigerians have been infected with HIV since beginning of the outgoing year.
Olawale disclosed this sobering fact during a call to encourage Nigerian communities to get tested for HIV. The doctor decried a situation where more than 80 per cent of the nation’s population has not been tested for the virus.
He further explained that currently, about 3.1 million Nigerians are living with HIV, a fact that makes Nigeria, according to him, the second most saturated with the HIV virus after South Africa.
However, only about 360,000 Nigerians who are HIV-positive are currently receiving treatment – slightly more than 10 per cent of those living with the virus. An estimated 1.5 million Nigerians are currently in immediate need of antiretroviral treatment, he said.
Olawale further explained that AHF Nigeria was planning joint efforts with local partners to increase the prevalence of HIV testing, eliminate HIV stigma, and bring the number of HIV-related deaths in the country to zero. Furthermore, the Ekiti State AIDS Control Agency announced it is specifically targeting students within the state’s education system with physical or mental disabilities to ensure the students are learning about abstinence and other HIV prevention methods.
“Given the huge gap that exists between access to and need for life-saving medicines and care for those living with HIV/AIDS, AHF is using the 2012 World AIDS Day to once again call communities together from across the country in solidarity, and to build a consensus among stakeholders, while also paying tribute to millions of people living with HIV/AIDS and celebrating victories that are allowing more people to live longer, healthier lives.”
Meanwhile, Nigeria is one of the 12 countries that recorded a decline in new infection rate, statistics reveal.
However, Benue State still leads other states of the federation in the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus [HIV] prevalence with 10.7%. The state is closely followed by Akwa Ibom with 10%, Bayelsa, 9.1% and Anambra, 8.1%.
Nigeria has recorded a decline in HIV prevalence, having moved from 4.6 prevalence rate in 2008 to 4.1% in 2012.
Disclosing this in Lagos in commemoration of World Aids Day 2012, Director/Head, Clinical Services Department, Institute of Human Virology Nigeria, Dr Ernest Ekong, said the global theme for this year, which is “Getting to Zero”, means we must all be committed to achieving zero new infections, zero discrimination against people living with HIV and zero AIDS-related deaths.
According to him, “sub-Saharan Africa remains most severely affected, with nearly one in every 20 [4.9%] living with HIV and accounting for 69% of people living with HIV worldwide. Although the regional prevalence of HIV infection is nearly 25 times higher in sub-Saharan Africa than in Asia, almost five million people are living with HIV in South-South-East and East Asia combined.
“After sub-Saharan Africa, the region’s most heavily affected are the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where 1.0% of adults were living with HIV in 2011.”
Ekong noted that it is a critical issue, that although approximately 1,555,780 people living with HIV [PLHIV] require anti-retroviral drugs, about one-third of the group is currently on treatment. “The gender dynamics in the profile of infections and the growing burden of the 2.2 million HIV orphans in Nigeria has made it necessary for the revised policy to critically address the rising HIV prevalence among women, the expansion in number of orphans and vulnerable children.
Other critical issues, which the revised policy should also address, Ekong further stated, include stigmatization of PLHIV and violation of their rights as well as their roles and responsibilities, the differences in communication messages on abstinence, condom use, etc. in post-primary educational institutions, and “the issues associated with increased access to treatment and care,” he said.