By Tayo Olaleye
It is hard to miss the attention AIDS has been getting recently. The war against HIV is one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG); aiming to halt and reverse the spread of the disease by 2015. An international AIDS conference held in Washington DC, US in July, adds to the renewed attention to HIV/AIDS. Amongst other objectives, this conference honed in on the potential of generic drugs to reduce the price of antivirals and prevention of HIV transmission from mothers to babies. Also, a drug, Truvada®, which is currently being used for HIV treatment in infected patients, has been approved by the FDA for use as a pre-exposure prophylaxis. This drug can now be used to prevent this debilitating disease in healthy people who are at risk of infection, e.g. people with HIV-infected partners. There are many arguments one can make on this drug approval but with good regulation and monitoring, this is a great achievement. It is worth mentioning that there is still no cure for HIV.
However, what struck me most was the statistics of AIDS patients we have in Nigeria. South Africa has the highest number of people living with this infection at 5.6 m people; followed closely by Nigeria at 3.3 m people. These are estimated values recorded in 2009. Two years later, the health minister reiterated the extent of HIV devastation in Nigeria and concluded that it required urgent attention. The three main ways that AIDS is transmitted in Nigeria are: unsafe sex, blood transfusions and mother to children transmission. An estimated 60,000 HIV infected babies are born annually. The glaring lack of funding, HIV testing programmes, sex education, counselling, promotion and distribution of condoms in the country do not help these statistics.
To get Nigeria in line with the MDG goal on HIV, these statistics have to be turned on their heads. Several media campaigns have been employed over the years, yet, the numbers remain static. Although very expensive, AIDS can be managed, treated and prevented. However, the collective attention that AIDS has been getting recently can only bring good news. Chevron has announced that it would help in this great challenge in Nigeria; more and more states are stocking up on testing kits; Uganda is planning to export antiretroviral drugs and the Federal Government has a renewed commitment to tackle this disease. These will hopefully educate our people more about this disease and save a lot of lives.
Stay Healthy. Protect yourself. Get tested periodically.