Pushing for the Last Mile as a Roadmap to eliminate HIV


In line with the vision of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to lay the foundation for a healthier, more prospheros and equitable Nigeria, the National Agency for the Control for AIDS (NACA) reiterates that the commitment to ending  the  AIDS epidemic by 2030 is irreversible. This commitment is further spurred by the fact that any considerable progress recorded  in the war against the AIDS epidemic can inspire broader national health and development possibilities and achievements.

 

Going  by the stance of the current leadership of NACA, I make bold to announce that NACA holds the mission to end AIDS epidemic by 2030 as a historic obligation to our country – a task we are gradually  achieving through  global solidarity, evidence-based interventions and multi-sectoral partnerships. As NACA drives the process towards the concluding chapter of the AIDS epidemic in Nigeria, we will never relent in evolving strategies to close the book on the virus.

 

We also acknowledge that  it  will be impossible to  end  the epidemic without bringing HIV treatment to all who need it. Whereas previous AIDS targets  sought to achieve incremental progress, our  new mandate  in the post-2015 era is nothing less than the end of AIDS epidemic by 2030. That is why we are doubling our efforts to establish new targets  for HIV testing and treatment   scale-up. Our intervention strategies for controlling the spread of the virus –  from planning to  budgeting to programme implementation – are guided by evidence-based data in line with global best  practices in  public  health management.

 

Unlike in the  past when the  HIV/AIDS epidemic in Nigeria was being described as one of the largest in the world and one of the highest rates of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa without adequate data but  presently we have verifiable data  to work with in our intervention programmes. This new journey started  in Nigeria when President Muhammadu Buhari formally unveiled  t he findings  of  t he Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) at a special event in the Presidential Villa in March 2019.

 

The NAIIS Report, which has since become the  guiding document  for response  to HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country, revealed progress and critical gaps in ending the HIV epidemic. “For the  first time, the  end of AIDS as a public health threat  by 2030 is truly in sight for our country. I urge all of us not to  relent  but  to  increase the momentum. Let  us work collectively and push for the  last mile,”  President  Buhari said.

 

To halt and end the HIV epidemic in our country, we need to work harder now than ever before. As an Agency working with our partners,  we will  continue  to  support persons who are HIV-positive, to provide treatment, to protect their families and to help people live  long and  healthy lives. However, we can  not  achieve the  2030 target of eliminating HIV/AIDS if we do not tackle the epidemic at the community level because the gateway to achieving the 2030 target  of ending the AIDS epidemic is to deepen and expand access to testing and prevention for all those that are positive.

 

It is, however, impossible to  access  HIV treatment  services that we provide freely all over the country without knowing one’s status. Therefore, I sincerely urge all Nigerians, irrespective of age or position, to make it a point of duty to go for testing and know their HIV status. As we always preach in the Agency, having AIDS is not a death sentence. Anyone that  tests  negative is qualified for double service: testing  and prevention; while anyone that tests positive automatically qualifies for free treatment in any government facility.

 

As we march with renewed vigour towards ending the epidemic, one thing that  has come in-between testing, prevention and treatment  is the stigmatization of persons that are living with HIV/AIDS. Stigma prevents people from coming forward for testing and when they test positive, doing something about it.

 

To end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, we must close the gap between  people who have access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services and people who have no access in this regard. This entails empowering and enabling all people, everywhere, to access the services they needed, and most importantly putting the patient  community at  the  center  of our interventions. In a nutshell, NACA targets five  thematic  areas  in  its  renewed determination to achieve the global target by 2030: prevention of HIV among general and  key  populations; expanding testing services; elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV  (eMTCT);   expanding treatment  services; and care, support and adherence.

 

A new but powerful momentum  is now building towards  a  new narrative –  an ambitious, but achievable target to end the HIV epidemic. Better than before, NACA is in a vantage position to achieve the United Nations’ 95-95-95 vision aimed at ending AIDS  by the  year 2030. What this simply means is that  by 2030, 95 percent  of all Nigerians living with HIV are expected  to know their HIV status through our testing services;  95 percent  of all  those  with diagnosed  HIV  infection should be captured in sustained antiretroviral therapy that  NACA  readily  provides;  while  95 percent  of  all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have attained viral suppression. For us in NACA, this is an ambitious but realizable target.

 

We will not relent in engaging women and adolescents in our activities, especially our prevention, protection and empowerment (PPE) programmes.  If  we are to  achieve epidemic control by 2030, we must take responsibility by coming up with targeted HIV testing programmes such as self- testing and awareness  creation at  the community level. As an Agency, we solicit for greater  commitment on  the  part of communities and individuals towards eliminating HIV.

 

The vision of President Buhari is to achieve an  AIDS-free Nigeria,  with  zero new infection, zero AIDS-related discrimination and stigma. This is what NACA is vigorously implementing across Nigeria’s 774 Local Government Areas in 36 States  of the Federation, including the  Federal Capital Territory. I enjoin everyone to join us in this noble endeavour so that we can all sing the victory song when we end AIDS in Nigeria by 2030.

 

By Toyin Aderibigbe

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