Despite spirited efforts by the government and numerous agencies to cut down the spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) in Nigeria, the number of pregnant women living with the infection is increasing.
According to the National Coordinator of Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (ASWHAN), Ms. Assumption Reginald, the number of pregnant women living with the virus in the country is not lower than 210,000.
Reginald also observed that for the government to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it should bring the problem of women living with the disease to the front burner.
Studies have shown that HIV has more devastating effect on women than men. Women constitute approximately 58 percent (1.72 million) of persons living with HIV in the country. It is also indicated that HIV prevalence among young women aged 15-24 years is estimated to be three times higher than among men of the same age.
Each year, 55 percent of AIDS-related deaths occur among women and girls. Nigeria is said to have the highest number of pregnant women living with HIV and the number of HIV-positive children, after South Africa and Mozambique.
We also have the highest estimated number of pregnant women living with HIV in need of Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARVs) to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Between 50,000 to 100,000 babies born in Nigeria annually are carriers of HIV/AIDS.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 15 percent of the total of low and middle range countries requiring ARVs for pregnant women living with HIV are from Nigeria.
This is bad news for Nigerians, especially those in the forefront of the battle against HIV/AIDS in the country. The troubling statistics have confirmed the fears that the nation is not winning the war against AIDS in spite of the huge funds expended by government and donor agencies on various anti-AIDS campaigns and palliative strategies annually.
What is obvious now is that there is the need to draw a new roadmap on how to contain the scourge of HIV/AIDS in the country.
The emphasis now should be on how to curtail the spread of the pandemic among women, especially pregnant women and their unborn children. Those in charge of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS should buckle up and rise up to the challenge.
The government should also be worried that the current trend in the spread of the pandemic may reverse earlier successes in the battle to contain the disease. Since the country has poor statistical culture, there is no doubt that the figures might even be grossly under-reported.
The National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), its state counterpart, the State Action Committee on AIDS (SACA), and their equivalent at the local government level should all wake up from slumber and check the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and children.
Let there be coordinated efforts by all AIDS control agencies in the country to put the menacing scourge at bay now. While information, education and communication programmes on the pandemic are still relevant, more efforts should be concentrated on treatment.
Now that there is a higher prospect of HIV cure as reported recently in the United States, government should ensure that all HIV-positive pregnant women do not pass the virus to their unborn children. Increasing access of ARVs to all pregnant HIV-positive women should be part of the new strategies aimed at reducing the scourge. Let government evolve the best-practice/success-based strategy in the implementation of Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme.
Therefore, government’s National Steering Group of the “Global Plan towards the Elimination of new HIV Infections among children by 2015 and Keeping their Mothers Alive” is a worthy intervention in this regard, provided that HIV-positive women actively participate in the implementation of the programme.
The voice of these women should count in all the programmes designed by government to reduce HIV among women in Nigeria.