By Magnus Eze
Hajia Zainab Haruna from Nasarawa State is an expectant mother living with HIV. Her worry grew by the day as her expected date of delivery (EDD) approached last December, because she did not know the fate of her unborn child since the prevention, treatment and care for people living with the disease has continued to dwindle nationwide.
There was also the challenge posed by the impending stoppage of donor funds for HIV/AIDS in the country by one of the major contributors to Nigeria’s HIV response, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
“We don’t know our fate as donors are pulling out. Nigerian government should take ownership. They used to give drugs to us for two months, but now, people are given drugs for two weeks, and we lack the money for transport to frequent the hospitals for the drugs,” Haruna lamented as she joined several other women and children on a march to the National Assembly on December 1, 2017.
She also complained the stigmatisation and discrimination they face in hospitals, even in the labour room.
Daily Sun gathered that people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) in Nigeria were concerned that their situation may worsen if donor funds eventually stopped coming, as they are bound to, soon.
To this end, the Society for Women and Children Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (SOWCHAN), a national network organization of support groups of women and children living with HIV/AIDS across the country, said it would stop at nothing in escalating their case.
However, an attempt by the group to meet with the committees in charge of HIV/AIDS in both the Senate and House of Representatives were frustrated by the NASS security, which disposed them of their placards and dispersed them. Some of them remained resolute and eventually found their way into the premises, but they were again turned back at the entrance of the House of Representatives building.
About 60 of the dejected women and children were seen hanging around the National Assembly hoping that someone would give them a listening ear, all to no avail.
National Coordinator of SOWCHAN, Lucy Enyia said they merely came to the legislative complex to let the lawmakers know what PLWHAs were passing through in the country. Enyia explained that a situation where 99 per cent of HIV commodities were supported by foreign donors was not sustainable, hence the call for the governments at all levels to adequately fund HIV/AIDS programmes by taking ownership.
The group also called for legislation or the strengthening of the existing ones in support of establishment of generic antiretroviral pharmaceutical plants in Nigeria.
The present situation where the Federal Government supported antiretroviral provision in only Abia and Taraba states, to them, is grossly inadequate and unacceptable.
SOWCHAN would further want government to ensure tax waivers on all drugs and commodities being donated to public healthcare facilities for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and other interventions in the country.
Enyia said the group was determined to push for adequate commitment of government to effective implementation of HIV/AIDS anti-stigma and discrimination Act in the country, while seeking the enabling environment for civil society activities in all aspects of HIV/AIDS programmes.
Other areas they seek legislation include free care for PLWHAs, including treatment of opportunistic infections, in all government-owned healthcare facilities in Nigeria, support of integration of Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS (EMTCT) into free Maternal and Child Health Services in the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of healthcare delivery services as well as immediate and compulsory domestication of the United Nations-ratified principle of Meaningful Involvement of PLWHAs (MIPA) at all levels of HIV/AIDS policy formulation, programmes planning and implementation, monitoring and evaluation and reporting.
They also called for the empowerment of vulnerable, disadvantaged and hard-to-reach women and girls as a strategic intervention in prevention of the spread of the disease.
Abia State coordinator of one of the network organisations, Glory Jude told Daily Sun that their situation was becoming unbearable, alleging that those on second line drugs were given half of the drugs and, this according to her, “put them in a precarious situation as they can easily die without the drugs. These people simply live on the drugs.”
The nation’s abysmal concern in handling the disease came to the fore recently following the disclosure by the Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr. Sani Aliyu that only 10 of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) contributed their counterpart funding for the HIV/AIDS project.
Surprisingly, states with highest prevalence rate of HIV, according to him, had not contributed a dime to the fund in the last two years.
Aliyu made the shocking revelation when he visited Director General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Dr. Garba Abari in Abuja, to seek ways of using NOA’s platforms to mobilize grassroots support for the campaign against the scourge.
He further said that his priorities were to increase government funding for HIV/AIDS project in view of the dwindling patronage from foreign donors who had borne more than 80 per cent of huge cost of efforts to curb the scourge and to reduce mother-to-child transmission rate to the minimum.
Nonetheless, reprieve seemed to have come the way of PLWHAs as the Senate President Bukola Saraki recently inaugurated the National Coalition Against AIDS (NASSCOA) to curb HIV/AIDS scourge by 2030.
Saraki who was represented by the Leader of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan noted that the right to health was a fundamental human right, adding that citizens must take part in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
He disclosed that over 10 million Nigerians currently know their HIV status, adding that government was working hard to make the country free from the scourge by 2030.
Saraki stated that the National Assembly’s intervention would make the implementation of the National Health Act feasible this year.
“We must live no one behind in this campaign against HIV, especially children from the ages of 10 and above”, he said, while decrying stigmatisation and discrimination of persons living with HIV/AIDS.