The fight against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) received presidential boost recently when President Goodluck Jonathan launched a new and special purpose programme targeted at achieving universal access to the prevention, treatment, care and support for all Nigerians living with the pandemic.
While presenting the new programme tagged President’s Comprehensive Response Plan” (PCRP) at the just concluded African Union (AU) Special Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and other related infectious diseases, in Abuja, Jonathan pointed out that the initiative was a demonstration of Nigeria’s commitment to the Abuja Declaration 2001.
He explained that government decided to launch the scheme following the realisation that HIV/AIDS poses a significant threat to life and economic development.
According to the president, the initiative will accelerate the implementation of key interventions in respect of the deadly scourge and bridge existing service gaps.
It will also address key financial system and coordination challenges in current HIV/AIDS response programmes.
To make the programme work, Jonathan has directed the immediate development of a creative framework for sustainable financing of health to meet the targeted objectives.
Interestingly, the president observed that Africa has made significant progress towards reduction of the incidence of the disease during the intervening years since the national benchmarks of Abuja Declaration 2001 and the United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS) Declaration of Commitment 2006.
He, however, noted that as commendable and encouraging as these achievements are, Africa is still far from attaining all the targets to sufficiently secure its wellbeing and the future of its people.
He also expressed the need to consolidate the progress made so far by addressing the heavy burden with increased urgency, and developing a stronger home grown and sustainable health financing framework in order to own the process and drive its implementation.
It is commendable that the president has come up with the Comprehensive Response Plan which is geared towards promoting greater responsibility for HIV/AIDS responses at national and sub-national levels. At the same time, we urge the president to match his words with commensurate action.
We say this bearing in mind that government’s official pronouncements at such grandiose events are often not implemented to the letter. We believe that this initiative will be able to take care of those left out of the previous care and palliative support programmes. All persons living with the pandemic should be accommodated in this phase of the war against the disease.
There is also the need to ensure that all Nigerians know their HIV status. This is the first step towards arresting the continuous spread of the condition that has afflicted many people in sub-Saharan African countries since it was identified some years ago.
Figures from United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) global update on HIV treatment 2013 show that 9.7 million people living with HIV accessed treatment in 2012, compared to just over 8.1 million in 2011.
Available statistics show that 3.4 million Nigerians are currently living with HIV/AIDS. With this figure, the country has the second highest number of people living with the infection in the world.
Out of this number, about 500,000 are on treatment with anti-retroviral drugs, according to figures supplied in December 2012. With the recent presidential pronouncement, the number will double in years to come.
Government and all HIV/AIDS related agencies at all tiers of government should work towards Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTC), which coverage is still very low in the country at 16.9 percent.
This is more instructive against the backdrop of the over 210,000 pregnant women living with the AIDS virus in the country. Let this new initiative be a clarion call on all stakeholders in the country to work in concert to keep AIDS at bay. All those involved in this task should do their best to make it work.
There must be no room for the usual Nigerian excuses. Let all the resources mapped out for the programme be judiciously utilised to achieve the desired objectives.
The government should also put in place an effective monitoring mechanism to ensure that the plan succeeds.