Nigeria: Why Africa should intensify the fight against HIV/AIDS (Feature by Abudu Babalola, PANA Correspondent)

Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) – As the HIV/AIDS is being marked Monday across the globe, African countries are making appreciable progress in their fight against the disease, but they need to sustain current momentum, medical experts and People Living With HIV (PLWHIV) have said in their messages to continental leaders.

“HIV/AIDS is still a big problem in Africa and we are still getting new infection," Prof. John Idoko, head of the National Agency for Control of AIDS (NACA) in Nigeria, told journalists in an interview, as part of the programmes marking the day.

The Theme for this year's celebration is "Closing The Gap, Say No To Stigma and Discrimination".

From Nigeria to Kenya, South Africa to Algeria and to Cameroon, several other activities, organised by the civil society, non-governmental organisations and PLWHIV, are taking place to mark the day.

These include public rallies, street walks, workshops, conferences, free distribution of condoms and awareness talks at both national, state and local council areas.

According to health experts, HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus which attacks the body's immune system - the body's defence against diseases.

HIV can be passed on through infected bodily fluids, most commonly via sex without a condom, or by sharing infected needles, syringes or other injecting drug equipment.

AIDS is the acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) -- It is the stage in which the virus has done extensive damage to the immune system.

Nigeria is the second most burdened HIV/AIDS country in Africa, with about 3.5 million people living with the virus.

South Africa has 5.4 million people living with HIV, which is the highest on the continent, with an estimated 20 million people living with the virus on the continent.

Since the first case of the disease was first reported in the United States in the late 70s, a vaccine for its cure is yet to be developed.

However, considerable progress  have been made in managing the HIV virus. Nigeria recorded its first case of the disease in 1985.

The disease has killed many Africans, including men, women and children, It has devastated the continent’s economy, reducing the capacity to improve production, income and wealth and thereby compounding the level of poverty.

“The good news is that in the last couple of years, we have been seeing a decline in the number of new infections and number of people dying from AIDS, not only in Nigeria but across Africa. So it is certain that we are making progress," the professor of medicine added.

About 60 million people around the world have been infected by the virus, 30 million people are still living with it and another 30 million have died from the epidemic.

HIV/AIDS is a major component of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), that set 2015 as meeting the goals' deadline.

Dr. Lawrence Oteba, Programme Adviser on HIV/AIDS with the Nairobi-based International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), attributed the achievements recorded in the fight against the disease, by African countries, to key investments in the treatment, prevention and support for people living with the disease.

“If you look at the 1990s and early 2000, the picture presented about HIV/AIDS was very scary and the deaths from it were very high with the number of new infections rising astronomically, Dr. Oteba explained.

He continued, ”Out of the 36 million people globally living with HIV then, 70% were in Africa, if you are diagnosed with HIV in the 90s, it was a death sentence, because antiretroviral drugs were not widely available, even if they are available, they were very expensive, so it was difficult to even have access to laboratory back up testing.

"The rural communities were not reached like what we now see today, which means many people in the remote areas were not able to access services, drugs and support.

"Great improvement has been recorded in prevention, care and support for people living with the disease."

In the past, Mother to Child Transmission of HIV virus was very high. Today that have been reduced as more facilities are available to mothers with the virus.

According to experts, "In the past also, testing for HIV in both rural and urban communities were a luxury. Now with an improved technology, you can get the results of an HIV test in just 15-20 minutes. People can now get tested using a saliva sample. The kits for the testing can easily be purchase in nearby chemists.

"But in spite of the success recorded in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa, several challenges are threatening to reverse the gains."

They said that Stigmatization, Discrimination, criminalization of people living with the virus and funding are some of these challenges.

Many African countries are yet to pass the Anti-Stigma law. For example, in Nigeria, while the Parliament has harmonised the bill, President Goodluck Jonathan, is yet to sign it into law.

“Most of my friends actually prefer talking with me from afar than getting close to them or sharing the usual social life with them. Stigmatization and discrimination remained major problems confronting us," says 45-year-old Isaac Kaplyil, one of the persons living with the virus.

The experience of Mr. Kaplyin is a reflection of what the close to 20 million people in Africa living with the virus go through every day.

He believed that if the bill is sign by the President, it will help in reducing stigmatization against People Living With HIV (PLWHIV).

When signed, it is hoped that the Anti-Stigma law will put an end to denial of jobs and sacking from work place of PLWHIV by their employers.

The medical experts have warned against complacency, because people now know that there is medicine for HIV, so it is no longer the killer that they know, due to the availability of antiretroviral drug that can keep them healthy.

They emphasised the need to sustain the prevention messages, with more focus on not just creating awareness, but bridging the gap between awareness and behavioural change.

People who have HIV and are on medication should be supported, so that a shared responsibility between those who are HIV negative and positive should be achieved.

According to experts, funding for HIV programmes needs to be address because majority of the funding for treatment is from Global fund.

Most of the donor countries to Global fund are also experiencing economic challenges back home so the amount of contributions they are making is reducing with time.

"African governments," they suggest, "ought to allocate more resources towards HIV programmes on the continent, so that sustainable development can be achieved.

"In addition, policies that are criminalizing HIV-related behaviour, such as sex workers, sexuality and homosexuality, need to be reviewed."
-0- PANA SB/VAO 1Dec2014

01 Dezembro 2014 15:06:30

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