Strategies for intensifying the battle against HIV/AIDS and tackling impediments to its eradication dominated discussions, as world leaders, distinguished scientists and public health advocates working on the pandemic gathered in Durban, South Africa, from 18 to 22 July for the 21st International AIDS Conference, tagged: AIDS 2016.
Speaking at the opening press conference of the event, Ban Ki-Moon, UN secretary general, emphasised the need to do whatever was necessary to stamp out the disease, stressing the need to close the gap that keep people from accessing HIV/AIDS-related services and living with dignity. Affirming the urgent need to expand resources and efforts towards global eradication efforts, the UN boss urged all stakeholders in AIDS control to let AIDS 2016 signpost the commitment to a new era – the era of a fast-tracked response aimed at achieving the 90-90-90 targets by 2020.
According Ki-Moon, these targets, aimed at ensuring 90 per cent of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90 per cent of people who know their HIV positive status are accessing treatment and 90 per cent of people on HIV/AIDS treatment have suppressed viral loads, is crucial to achieving the global goal of completely ending AIDS by 2030.
Nigeria, more than any other country, needs to pay particular attention to this crucial call from the UN. This is especially so, as available UNAIDS statistics have shown that, of the estimated 36.7 million people living with HIV, a significant percentage of whom are residing in Africa, Nigeria has been shown to have the second largest number of people living with the virus. This, indeed, is worrisome.
The Nigerian government should equally be concerned that while 17 million people are now receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS globally, the figure is still disproportionate as it shows that more than half of all people living with HIV, especially in countries like Nigeria, still lack access to treatment.
Additionally, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in its Prevention Gap Report disclosed that while new HIV infections among adults and children have been reduced by 40 per cent since 1997, the decline among adults has stalled for at least 5 years, resulting in an estimated 1.9 million adults becoming infected with HIV every year for the past five years.
No other factor could have caused this intermission in the defeat of HIV/AIDS other than the fact that efforts to tame the disease have drastically dwindled in most countries, with Nigeria being a prime example. It is therefore paramount for stakeholders in the nation’s health sector to wake up to this challenge. It is our firm belief that if nothing is done about this timely alarm, the devastating consequences may be too late to contain later.
Nigeria must, in tandem with the theme of the 2016 AIDS conference: “Access Equity Right Now” scale up access to comprehensive treatment, prevention, care and support services for HIV/AIDS. Anyone tested and confirmed to be HIV positive must be on antiretroviral therapy as this not only helps to keep them healthy but also reduces their chances of infecting other people.
The only way to prevent HIV/AIDS from staging a comeback not just in Nigeria but the world at large is to avoid a reversal of the big gains recorded on the treatment front through complacency. Even though, presently, there are challenges with funding health and by extension important public health intervention programmes like HIV/AIDS control, especially because donor organisations are scaling down their support, the Nigerian government must still devise ingenious ways to surmount this challenges and ensure efforts to tame the disease are consistently sustained.
While we acknowledge ongoing efforts by scientists to come up with a preventive and perhaps curative vaccine to finally end the HIV/AIDS menace, it is our view that sustaining the tempo of HIV/AIDS control efforts of past years, especially the massive enlightenment campaigns, mass testing of people and ensuring access to antiretroviral drugs for those that are positive must not be jettisoned but sustained.