Nigeria pledges allout fight with AIDS amid fund shortage
by Olatunji Saliu
ABUJA, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- Curtains fell on Nigeria's first-ever national HIV prevention conference on Thursday, with a call for the West African country to fast track response toward ending HIV/AIDS by 2030.
The Nigerian government said it would continue to give necessary support to people living with HIV/AIDS and take its political will a step further through the enactment of an anti-discrimination act to address the barrier of stigma and discrimination.
More than 3.5 million people are currently living with HIV in Nigeria, among them 250,000 new infections, with only 24 percent of the total figure of people with the disease having access to public health treatment.
Nigeria is yet to implement the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a new HIV prevention approach in which HIV-negative individuals use anti-HIV medications to reduce their risk of becoming infected.
At the Abuja conference themed "Hands on for HIV Prevention" to mark the World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, Minister of State for Health Osagie Ehanire said as the nation strives to achieve a sustainable government policy by 2030, all hands needed to be on deck to ensure that those who are negative remain negative, while those who are positive continue to get adequate care and support.
According to him, paucity of funds on the part of government had hampered the funding of HIV eradication programs and other health programs in the country.
Despite the financial challenge, he said the Zambian government had made substantial improvement in the 2017 budgetary allocation for HIV/AIDS.
"We are all aware of the insufficient funding for health, including for HIV and other contagious diseases. This is not because government rates healthcare low, it is because of very high competing needs coupled with the challenges the country faces at the moment," Ehanire said, adding "we are committed to the implementation of the national health act which provides 1 percent of the consolidated revenue funds for the health sector."
Since 2014, the Nigerian government has solely been funding the treatment of only 50,000 persons living with HIV and the prevention of mother-child transmission in some states, with the support of some development partners.
To reduce mother-to-child transmission, the country has adopted"Option B+'', which refers to testing and treating pregnant women who are HIV positive after delivery and postpartum period.
The National Agency for Control of AIDS (NACA) said it is willing to enhance transparency and accountability to win confidence of foreign donors of its HIV/AIDS programs.
Also speaking at the national HIV prevention conference, Sani Aliyu, director-general of NACA, said the key priority of the agency was transparency and accountability in all its activities.
According to Aliyu, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV will not be possible without having other agencies on board like the National Primary Health Care Development Agency.
He said NACA will strengthen its system at the moment to deepen access to HIV/AIDS services at the government level, expressing optimism that the agency will achieve its target.
Noting there was huge financial pressure on the program, he said Nigeria's goal of eradicating HIV/AIDS before or in 2030 was still achievable, and the right thing to do now.[ Editor: meng ]