World AIDS Day: 1 Million Nigerians Receives HIV Treatments…A Big History of Largest Number, Says UNAIDS Director

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By: Joy Odor/Abuja

The Executive Director of Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Ms Winnie Byanyima has asked Nigeria to be pride for contributing about 1 million people living with HIV/AIDS receiving treatment.

She made the disclosure at the commemoration of 2019 World AIDS Day and official National Launch of the Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U) Campaign in Nigeria with the Theme: “Communities Make Difference” in Collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

According to her, there are 23 million people living with HIV who are receiving treatment worldwide, Nigeria contributes about 1 million of that while 15 million people are yet to be reached.

“Today, Nigeria is part of a wonderful history. We have 23 million people living with HIV who are receiving treatments worldwide. Nigeria contributes a million of that, a big history of the largest number of people on treatment.

“15 million people are yet to be reached, so we still have distance to go. In Nigeria, we are talking about half a million HIV people who are still need of treatments” she stressed.

The UN Executive Director who was represented by the Country Director, Mr. Erasmus Morah said in Nigeria, half a million people living with HIV are in need of the treatments which are the vulnerable and marginalized communities that makes the difference, those who already have issues before HIV come on board such as gay men, transgender, those affected with drugs and sex workers others.

She was of the opinion that UN found them special because the UN demand for people’s right, to protect, servicing and dignity to every humanity, gives voice to the voiceless and help to deliver services, saying most importantly to fight sigma and discrimination.

“UN wants these communities to be acknowledged for the difference that they make, involve them in policy, planning and budgeting but especially when fund is involved to influence how money is allocated, support them to push for policy reforms or change laws that are bad.

“As for government, donors and, agencies, they should invest in the special communities” Ms Byanyima said.

Launching the Campaign, the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan reaffirmed Nigeria commitment, through all the relevant communities to make the difference in the National HIV Response to attain the 90-90-90 goal by the end of 2020.

Represented by Senator Utazi Chukwuka, Senator Lawal stated that the campaign is important to all as it conveys to Nigerians living with HIV that their undetectable viral load protects their own health, the health of their families and prevent new HIV infections.

According to Senator Lawal, the campaign is central to reminding policymakers, elected representatives, multilateral and unilateral and Organizations that access to viral load testing needs to be universe for Nigerians living with HIV.

“With the unveiling of this campaign, we joining the rest of the international community to raise the consciousness of all Nigerians to the fact that Undetectable viral load equals to Untransmittable virus.

“With the unveiling of this campaign, we stand with Nigerians living with HIV to support their goal of viral load suppression” He said.

Earlier in his welcome address, the Director-General of National Agency for The Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr. Aliyu Gumel Gambo explained that communities working with Nigeria in the last 15 years have succeeded in reducing HIV prevalence from 4.4% in 2015 to  1.4% in 2018.

He mentioned that the outstanding performance had put Nigeria on the path of achieving HIV epidemic control, adding that achieving epidemic control will require more resources in the form of community time and effort to educate the society, fight stigma and discrimination to improve access to HIV services by every member of the community.

Dr. Gambo lamented that the challenge before government, donor agencies and communities in 2020 is to accelerate the mile push by ensuring every member of the community know about their HIV status and make proactive steps to remain healthy.

“This year’s theme “Communities make the difference” acknowledges the essential role communities play in the global HIV response. Communities include network of people living with or are affected by HIV, women and young people, peer educators, conusellors, community health workers, door-to-door service providers among other.

“Early this year, President Muhammadu Buhari releases results of the NAIIS survey which showed the huge difference communities in Nigeria made in stemming the tide of HIV epidemic.

“The effort of the communities are more than ever needed to ensure that HIV remains on the political agenda and galvanized international and National funding for HIV to ensure the UNSAIDS 90:90:90 goals are achieved and sustained” Dr. Aliyu noted.

In his address, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation of Nigeria (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha disclosed that the Federal Government has approved the release of the sum of N2.5 Billion for procurement of drugs and other necessities for HIV/AIDS patients and taken up the treatment burden of an additional 50,000 patients bringing the total number of patients being treated to 100,000.

Mr. Boss Mustapha who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, General Service Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Sir Olushegun Adekunle, (Esq) also reiterated the commitment of the Federal Government in achieving the task before the year 2030.

“The Federal Government is confident that the campaign will help policy makers, program managers and funding agencies to further understand the dynamics of HIV in Nigeria and to be able to synergize efforts at ending the stigmatization against people living with HIV/AIDS. This effort will no doubt enable us achieve the goal to end the epidemic in Nigeria by year 2030.

“As part of commitments by this Administration to eradicate the spread of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018 launched the Nigeria AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) which has been termed the largest HIV/AIDS survey in the world.

“Nigeria has made progress over the years in generating quality data that robustly inform policy planning and implementation of evidence-based measures in our unwavering pursuit to control and end the HIV epidemic in our country.

In her remarks, the U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), Ms. Kathleen FitzGibbon said the U.S. Government’s global commitment to fighting AIDS epidemic stands at $80 billion dollars, combating what has been described as the worst human scourge in history.

She maintained that in Nigeria alone, the U.S. Government has invested more than $5 billion in the national HIV/AIDS response, pointing out that currently, more than 720 organizations have joined the U=U campaign from over 90 countries.

According to her, PEPFAR works closely with the Nigerian government toward achieving HIV epidemic control while promoting the long-term sustainability of their responses to find, link, and maintain patients on life-saving HIV treatment.

“PEPFAR recognizes that successful and sustainable HIV/AIDS interventions must involve, be informed by, and tailored to those served; saying PEPFAR’s commitment to reaching all populations and linking them to HIV services remains strong.

“For the first time in modern history, we have the opportunity to control the AIDS epidemic in Nigeria.  U=U has proven to change the way we view HIV and HIV-positive individuals.

“U=U is an informational campaign about how effective HIV medications are at preventing sexual transmission of HIV. U=U means that people living with HIV who achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load—the amount of HIV in the blood—by taking and adhering to their HIV medication as prescribed cannot sexually transmit the virus to others.

“It empowers patients to not only get tested but to take control of their status, with the ultimate goal of maintaining an undetectable viral load. With the great partnership we share with the government of Nigeria, I’m sure we can achieve HIV epidemic control in Nigeria” Ms Kathleen FitzGibbon said.

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