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‘Nigeria working towards achieving epidemic control for HIV’

by Haruna Gimba
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By Iyemah David

The Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, said the country has made significant strides in its battle against the HIV epidemic.

This ministry said that with a steadfast commitment to public health and the well-being of its citizens, the country has set its sights on achieving epidemic control for HIV.

The Deputy Director/Head of Treatment Care and Support Program, National HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis and STIs Control Programme (NASCP) at the ministry, Dr Peter Nwaokenneya, said this on Wednesday in Abuja at a round table with newsmen.

The roundtable with the theme “Now is the Time: Fighting Paediatric HIV Through Strategic Partnership” was organized by the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) in collaboration with NASCP, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health.

Nwaokenneya said that in recent years, through a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach, the country is determined to curb the spread of the virus, ensure access to treatment and care, and ultimately reduce the impact of HIV on its population.

“This ambitious goal reflects Nigeria’s dedication to tackling one of the most pressing health challenges of our time and serves as a beacon of hope for other nations grappling with similar epidemics,” he said.

He said that initially, there were challenges, including a high prevalence rate and limited access to treatment in the country, however, concerted efforts have led to improved awareness, increased access to antiretroviral therapy, and a decline in HIV prevalence.

In the context of paediatric HIV, he said that there has been notable progress as well. Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programs and increased testing and treatment options for children have contributed to a reduction in the number of new paediatric infections.

“While challenges persist, the overall trajectory suggests positive advancements in addressing paediatric HIV in the country,” he said.

According to him, As of December 2022, 1.9 million people were living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. Out of this number, 150,000 were children, and only 50,000 children had access to treatment.

Prof Rosemary Ugwu – Consultant Paediatrician, University of Port Harcourt, said that to demonstrate meaningful youth engagement in HIV programs, there was a need to consider involving young people in decision-making processes, creating youth-friendly spaces for dialogue, and incorporating their insights into program development and evaluation.

Ugwu said that there was a need to encourage active participation and seek feedback to ensure their perspectives were valued and integrated.

She said that the media plays a crucial role in promoting inclusion and creating supportive communities.

“By leveraging technology, media can transcend geographical barriers, educate diverse audiences, and contribute to reducing stigma and discrimination.

“Thoughtful content, awareness campaigns, and inclusive messaging can foster understanding, empathy, and a sense of community across different backgrounds and experiences,” she said.

She shared insights on the evolution of HIV treatment. “Initially, there were no drugs, and contact meant automatic death.

She noted that in early 2000s saw adult drugs, but children struggled to access them. Mixing adult drugs with syrup (vitamin B or C) improved child recovery.

“Despite syrup challenges, research brought tablets and fixed combinations for easier use,” she said.

She said that the country faced hurdles with the first drug, but progress has been made.

She underscored family-centred healthcare benefits.

“Involving families, especially pregnant women, aids early HIV diagnosis, treatment adherence, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

“The approach supports children’s retention in care, ensuring they are part of the healthcare system. It contributes to the psychological and social development of children while reducing stigma.

“Yet, there’s an acknowledgement that more work is needed for comprehensive healthcare in Nigeria, she said.

The root of eliminating HIV in Nigeria is stigma” said Mr Aaron Sunday, National Coordinator of Positive Youths in Nigeria (APYIN), while underscoring major avenues to fight Paediatric HIV.

Sunday said that to identify HIV cases among adolescents and adequately administer treatment to them, a human-centred design should be adopted through empowerment, empathy, partnership and trust, among others in the country.

He stated that APYIN as well as other partnering organisations are working towards eliminating the killer disease in the year 2030.

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