Unarguably, the inauguration of “Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact survey (NAIIS)’’ on June 8, 2018 by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) is important for the purpose of increasing awareness on the prevalence of HIV and AIDS and its treatment.
According to NACA, NAIIS is expected to determine an accurate estimate of people living with HIV and AIDS in the country with a view to boosting response and access to treatment.
The survey, described by many stakeholders in health sector as the largest ever population-based survey carried out anywhere in the world, is also to ensure that Nigeria will attain the world target on fighting the virus to the finish by 2030.
Towards this attainment, the survey targeted sampling 170,000 people across all local government areas in Nigeria.
The sampling involved such huge number from the grassroots following a report of Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) that Nigeria has a huge number of HIV epidemics with high infection rates among key populations.
The report further restated that 3.2 million people are living with the virus in Nigeria, rating the country as the second largest HIV epidemic in the world after Eswatini (Swaziland).
The survey, therefore, took seriously the report that many people living with HIV in Nigeria are unaware of their status and that the country continues to fall short of providing the recommended number of HIV testing and counselling sites.
Stakeholders in health sector observe that the overall objective of the government is to reverse the seeming low levels of access to antiretroviral treatment that has remained an issue for people living with HIV.
Dr. Sani Aliyu, the Director-General, NACA, noted that an estimated “30 percent of Nigerians living with HIV/AIDS are on treatment, meaning the remaining 70 per cent or more than two million people, either do not know they are infected or are not presenting themselves for care’’.
Concerned by this development, President Muhammadu Buhari recently pledged to provide antiretroviral treatment to 50,000 Nigerians living with HIV and AIDs every year to lift the country’s hope of achieving end to HIV and AIDS by 2030.
Commending this pledge, Mr Stuart Symington, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, said that keeping HIV positive people on treatment was the most effective way to fight the disease until a vaccine for HIV could be developed.
However, perceptive observers note that although accessing the anti-retroviral drugs is free, often patients will be asked to pay for other services, for example running other tests.
According to them, these fees and high costs of travel to clinics can be a barrier to many people accessing care.
They insist that providing anti-retroviral treatment for all people living with HIV will benefit those already living with HIV and reduce the chance of HIV transmission to others.
Also, a report of an expert indicates that: “Engaging all members of society, especially those who are most vulnerable to HIV, is key to a unified and considered HIV response.
“Encouraging HIV testing among the Nigerian population to ensure everyone knows their HIV status is also key to any informed strategic plan’’.
However, Mr Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, reiterated the determination of the present administration to funding the treatment of both old and new cases of people living with HIV and AIDS.
Mustapha said that it was the government intention to achieve this by sustaining HIV response across the country and increasing HIV funding at national and state levels.
He noted that the fund would go a long way in addressing the challenges of the difficulty in accessing HIV services and treatment in the country.
“State governors are recently committed to earmark between 0.5 per cent to one per cent of their states’ monthly federal allocation to address the unmet needs for HIV and AIDS in their respective states.
“NACA is also working on other initiatives such as a private sector-driven HIV and AIDS Trust Fund and they are also supporting stakeholders to provide an enabling environment for local manufacture of HIV related commodities,’’ he said.
Corroborating his statement, NACA says it has begun the study of the efficiency of HIV care-giving, beginning from testing, prevention, treatment and other care services.
“Is the service or intervention effective; service delivery cost-effective and do we reach more persons with high-quality service at a lower price?
“Are the differences in cost for delivering a package of care among service providers in the same geographical area, these are pertinent questions we ought to ask’’, NACA boss, Aliyu said.
He, however, noted that as the world strove to achieve ending AIDS by 2030, increased efficiency meant that more people could receive appropriate services.
Similarly, Mrs Pauline Tallen, NACA Board Chairperson, noted that it was important for the country to control mother-to-child transmission of the virus, explaining that it would be unfair to bring in a child to the world with the avoidable virus.
She, nonetheless, noted that she was optimistic that with the commitment of the present administration, the spread of HIV and AIDS from mother-to-child would reduce significantly.