…optimistic of 2030 global HIV target

From Fred Ezeh, Abuja

Stakeholders involved in the fight against HIv/AIDS in Nigeria have begun campaign and search for new local funding window for the fight against the disease in Nigeria.

This was, perhaps, in preparation for the time when foreign donors/partners may reduce their financial support to the fight against HIV or possibly withdraw it entirely.

The stakeholders led by the National Agency for the Control of Aids (NACA) and UNAIDS, however, amplified the campaign at the opening ceremony of the 2024 HIV Prevention Conference organized by NACA and other stakeholders on the theme “Accelerating Prevention to End AIDS through Innovations and Community Engagement” in Abuja, on Tuesday.

Director General of NACA, Dr. Temitope Ilori, in her opening address, said the conference underscored the importance of community involvement in shaping effective prevention strategies, while ensuring access to treatment for those living with HIV/AIDS.

She said: “In the time between the last conference and now, we have implemented various strategies such as combination prevention therapy, HIV self-testing, harm reduction initiatives, treatment as prevention, and the re-evaluation of Nigeria’s HIV epidemic through the NAIIS in 2018, among others.

“However, despite our achievements, our work is far from over. We must redouble our efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission and strive for an AIDS-free generation by 2030, leveraging the advancements in health technology at our disposal.

“Prevention lies at the core of our interventions. Therefore, this conference serves as a platform to explore innovative approaches to empower communities, particularly those at higher risk, with the knowledge and tools to protect themselves from HIV infection.

“Stigma and discrimination remain significant barriers to achieving our global HIV goals by 2030. We must educate and sensitize our people about the harmful effects of stigma and discrimination against individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

“Our strategies must also be inclusive, person-centred, and sensitive to the needs of adolescents, young people, key populations, and people living with HIV/AIDS. We must also focus on community-based interventions while promoting local ownership and sustainability of our response efforts.”

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UNAIDS Country Director, Dr. Leo Zekeng, in his remarks, admitted that progress has been made in the fight against HIV in Nigeria and beyond, but not satisfactory enough to attract some level of complacency.

He thus championed a campaign for top level political will/commitment which, he said, is crucial towards the 2030 global HIV target. Additionally, he suggested a new approach to condom programming, as well as additional funding to fasten the 2030 global HIV target.

PEPFAR Coordinator, Dr. Funmi Adesanya, in her keynote address which was focused on the potentials of the youths, challenged them to make best use of the opportunities they have to make the society a better one.

She said: “Young people! your energy is unmatched, your potential is untapped, and your future is a blank canvas awaiting your imagination. A blank canvas refers to a literal or metaphorical surface that is devoid of any markings, colors, or content. it Is a clean slate, ready to be filled with artistic expression or ideas.

“Many of you are aware of the realities faced by young people not only in Nigeria but across the continent. The incidence of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases is higher on this continent than on any other. Africa is challenged by socio-economic hardships, including poverty, underdevelopment, and educational disparities. It also faces rising insecurity, japa syndrome and other vulnerabilities that many of you can not only articulate better than I.”

Mr. Abdulkadir Ibrahim, President of Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN), in his remarks, appreciated NACA and other stakeholders for the opportunity to discuss issues that will, expectedly, strengthen the fight against HIV/AIDS resulting in improved result.

He maintained that data management is one of the challenge in the fight against HIV in Nigeria. “Data from 2018 NAIIS is still being for use in HIV response in Nigeria, but a lot has changed since 2018. So, there’s need for updated data. Currently, 1.7 million people are receiving HIV treatment in Nigeria according to NACA dashboard. But more efforts are required.”

Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Tunji Alausa, represented by Dr. David Atuwo, said the conference was an opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas and domesticating them for the fight against HIV.

He also stressed the need for accurate data that would give precisions/directions to the programmes and policies of government regarding HIV response in Nigeria.

He said: “There’s need to accelerate prevention of new infections especially amongst vulnerable population and youths in general, hence this conference provide a platform for discussing our different prevention strategies with intent of sharing global prevention practices and domesticating them to suit our socio-cultural environment.”