Friday, January 16, 2009

Tackling HIV/AIDS challenge

The 2008 UNAIDS report on the Global AIDS Epidemic is a mixed bunch of gradual success and fresh challenges. The report says 2.7 million people got newly infected with the HIV virus globally in 2007 with over 7,400 new cases reported daily–a decline from the 2001 figure of three million. The report also indicates that the number of children newly infected with the virus globally declined to 370,000 in 2007 from 450,000 in 2000. An estimated two million people died from HIV-related illness in 2007, a decline from 2.2 million in 2005.

Nigeria’s record sheet was even better. The report says the nation’s HIV prevalence record in 2007 slumped to 3.6 per cent in 2007 from 4.4 per cent in 2005 and 5.8 per cent in 2003.

Unlike UNICEF’s estimate of 3.9 in 2005, UNAIDS estimates that around 3.1 per cent of Nigerian adults between ages 15-49 were living with HIV/AIDS in 2007. While UNICEF estimates that 2.9 million Nigerians were living with HIV/AIDS in 2005, UNAIDS says 2.4 million had the scourge by the end of 2007.

UNAIDS says 58 per cent of HIV cases occurred among women (ages 15-49) by the end of 2007 while UNICEF puts the number (15 and above) at 1.6 million in 2005. The number of children (aged 0-14) living with AIDS dipped in 2007. UNAIDS puts the figure (ages 0-15) at 220,000 by the end of 2007, a slip from UNICEF’s 240,000 in 2005.

This decline notwithstanding, the world body says Sub-Saharan Africa remains “the epicentre of the epidemic”. According to the report, “Two-thirds of all people living with HIV are Africans. Three-quarters of the deaths in 2007 were in Africa. And if 100 random adults in sub-Saharan Africa were tested, the average number of those found to be HIV positive would be five.”

Another challenge facing Nigeria is the recent advent of man-to-man sex. The report says HIV prevalence is 13.4 per cent or 3.5 times higher than the national prevalence among men who have sex with men.

UNAIDS also says approximately 170,000 Nigerians died of AIDS in 2007 alone, adding that the development has hacked the average life expectancy for women to 46 years and men to 47 years, a tremendous decline from the 1991 figure of 53.8 for women and 52.6 for men. More worrisome is the submission that for every two people put on treatment globally, five others are newly infected.

Without doubt, the success recorded between 2002 and 2007 was largely as a result of the financial assistance from foreign donors. However, with the ongoing global financial challenges that may necessitate a cut in foreign assistance worldwide, the FG may have to look for other creative means to fund its HIV/AIDS programme. The government may have to increase its funding of the antiretroviral treatment programme from the current five per cent.

There is a need to step up public enlightenment on HIV/AIDS. Media campaign should be intensified for the use of condom, especially with the 2007 UNAIDS report saying that 80 per cent of HIV infections in Nigeria were transmitted through heterosexual sex. In the face of possible cut in foreign financial assistance, preventive measures should be intensified and emphasised to reduce new infection.

The Federal Government needs to fast-track its target on the National HIV/AIDS Strategic Framework, which aims to provide antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to 80 per cent of adults and children with advanced HIV infection and to 80 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women by 2010; and to test 80 per cent of the population for HIV the same year.

The FG should also pay more attention to blood transfusion, especially against a report that it accounts for 10 per cent of new HIV infections in Nigeria. Also, mother-to-child transmission should be looked into to avert the recurrence of 2005 tragedy where most of the 220,000 children who contacted AIDS did so through their mothers.

While testing centres should be increased, the society should embrace voluntary testing and relate to AIDS victims with love as a precursor to making them to lead normal lives.