By Joy Odor
Since 2019, Nigeria has nearly doubled the number of children and adolescents receiving lifesaving HIV treatment services.
The country has also increased the percentage of children under nine years old that have achieved HIV viral suppression from 60 to 84 percent.
The US-CDC-supported Faith-Based Action for Scaling Up Testing and Treatment for Epidemic Response project, or FASTER, facilitated significant progress among these populations.
The US-CDC Country Director, Dr. Mary Boyd, disclosed this in Abuja at the close-out ceremony of the FASTER project.
The project was implemented in collaboration with CDC Comprehensive HIV Service Delivery Implementing Partners, the Government of Nigeria, and other stakeholders in the FCT, Nasarawa, Benue, Lagos, Imo, Enugu, Delta, and Rivers states, to catalyze priority interventions, especially for children and adolescents, towards improved HIV service delivery and health outcomes.
Dr. Boyd said, “In many ways, FASTER came to set the trend, to demonstrate that innovations in Pediatric HIV care and treatment are possible and that it can make a difference in saving lives.”
FASTER focused on reducing structural barriers to care, expanding innovation, and scaling up what works.
NASCP’s, Dr. Akudo Ikpeazu acknowledged the critical contributions of the FASTER initiative, particularly in ensuring that infants received timely early infant diagnosis and treatment by introducing point of care testing utilizing GeneXpert platforms.
The CDC Country Director noted that the FASTER initiative delivered on its objectives and was instrumental in ensuring innovations in case-finding, such as caregiver-assisted HIV self-testing.
Rapid turnaround time for early infant diagnosis, pediatric viral load testing for timely decision making, and accelerated adoption of optimized pediatric regimens.
FASTER also impacted the roll-out of Operation Triple Zero (OTZ), an asset-based approach to HIV programming for adolescents and young people (AYP) and was instrumental in strengthening the retention in care of mother-infant pairs.
Dr. Boyd noted, “While significant progress has been made, we still have work to do. For example, estimates show that about 85,000 children living with HIV in Nigeria still do not have access to treatment.
However, we now know those innovations and best practices that do work, and we are well on our way to ensuring equity in the care available for every child living with HIV.”
The Country Director expressed gratitude to the 100s of religious leaders who partnered with US-CDC and have become champions for the children’s health in their communities.
“Such efforts will remain part of the history of Nigeria’s HIV epidemic control success story,” she added.
FASTER was funded through a US-CDC Headquarters co-operative agreement in 2019 with the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). In addition to Nigeria, the project was implemented in Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
US-CDC is one of the key implementing agencies of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
The FASTER program exemplifies the ongoing efforts of the U.S. government to assist countries in achieving sustained epidemic control of HIV by supporting equitable health services and solutions, enduring national health systems and capabilities, and lasting collaborations.
Since 2003, the U.S. government, through PEPFAR, has invested more than $85 billion in the global HIV/AIDS response and saved more than 20 million lives, working in 54 countries.
In Nigeria, PEPFAR has invested more than $6 billion in the national HIV/AIDS response.
Some measures of our success include, nearly 1.8 million, women, and children currently on HIV treatment in Nigeria.