As the clock ticks faster towards the 2020 global deadline for the eradication of HIV/AIDS, donor agencies, NGOs and Cross River State Government officials are taking steps to eradicate the virus.
During the road walk in the state, condoms and flyers were distributed to members of the public as part of enlightenment campaign towards the eradication of the killer disease. Information in some of the flyers were directed at couples to take up family planning and prevention of mother to child transmission of the disease
Some of the NGOs erected canopies at the venue and continued to distribute male and female condoms and flyers to members of the public. An NGO, Positive Development Foundation (PDF) even went a step further by offering free HIV test to members of the public who trooped to the NGO's stand to be tested.
With 3.1 million people living with the disease in Nigeria, there is urgent need to intensify efforts at dealing a big blow on the scourge. Beyond the fanfare associated with the annual event, the call to greater action by all stakeholders such as UNFPA, ViiV Healthcare, fhi 360, IMPACTs (PDF, Dream Boat and Dawn Of Life Foundation) during this year's event was quite a welcome development.
Governor Ben Ayade, whose remark was read by the state commissioner for Health, Dr. Inyang Asibong, expressed optimism that “by 2020 we hope to eliminate HIV/AIDS as a public health threat. Since the advent of HIV/AIDS over 35 years ago, about 78 million people have been infected and 35 million people have died from causes related to HIV/AIDS globally.
“In Nigeria, we have 3.1 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS. And Cross River State is the 5th state in the list of prevalence for HIV/AIDS, just coming behind Akwa Ibom State, Benue State, Anambra State and Imo State. And of course you know that Cross River State shares boundaries with Benue and Akwa Ibom states. So we have a lot of movement and interaction between people from those states.”
She said Calabar Municipality is the only local government, out of the 18 in the state, that was close to meeting the 2020 global goal of eradicating the disease, and echoed this year's theme: 'Right To Health, Making It Happen,' by saying that “We all have a right to health,” adding that more efforts should be geared towards eradicating the disease by the year 2020.
DG, State Primary Health Care, Dr. Betta Edu, in her speech at the event said: “The occasion provides an opportunity for us to appraise ourselves, to know what we have done differently between 1st December 2016 and 1st December, 2017. What have we failed to do? How can we make it happen? DG SACA has clearly listed some achievements since 2005 and has called for continuous action. We must take the message beyond the cities to the rural areas. Our people need to know the importance of protecting themselves and protecting the next generation from HIV/AIDS.
“I am very happy that the state government has done very well in instituting the elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS. We must protect our unborn children. But more needs to be done as it concerns information dissemination in our rural areas. All partners in the field need to do more. We are beginning to go back on our gains but sincerely we must not let that happen. We must get onto the field and get our people protected at all costs. More centres should be made available for people who are suffering from HIV/AIDS to access treatment.”
She further stated: “I want to congratulate the wife of the Governor, Dr. Linda Ayade, for pushing the fight to rural areas and other hard to reach areas, working with the state Ministry of Health and the Cross River State Primary Health Care Development Agency as well as SACA. By this time next year, I hope we can show better result. With the new Ayade Care, free healthcare will be made available for people living with HIV/AIDS.”
The DG, CRSACA, Dr. Rose Nyambi listed the gains the agency has made along with other stakeholders and laid bare some challenges that still had to be surmounted.
“The right to health is intrinsically and inextricably linked to other basic rights. According to the United Nations, the full realization of human right and fundamental freedom for all is an essential element in the global response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, including in the areas of prevention, care, support, and treatment because it reduces vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and prevents stigma and related discrimination against people living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS infection.
“The state government in partnership with development and preventive partners, civil society organisations and other stakeholders should gear their efforts towards achieving the AIDS 90-90-90 target by ensuring that HIV prevention and treatment service are available. I am close to those who really need them in communities across the state. These include, among others, scaling up of treatment, prevention, care and support services, proving an enabling environment for development partners to work in the state.”
She also said: “Available data shows that HIV/AIDS services have been decentralised, and scaling up from none in 2005 to 52 anti-retroviral therapy sites, 260 civil society organisations that are currently working on HIV/AIDS in the state, 25 faith-based organisations also working on HIV, 1004 persons who inject drugs, 80 support groups of people living with HIV. A few doing support works have sprung up in the LGAs.
“We have 10,484 men who have sex with men and 9,000 female sex workers. Despite this remarkable achievement made by the state government and stakeholders, the state HIV prevalence is still higher than the national and zonal average. This is therefore, a call to duty for everyone. There is still work to be done. The prevalence rate as at 2014 stood at 6.6 percent. As we make progress towards the achievement of the 2020 target, it is imperative to note that there are many people within the state who still do not know their status.
“Above all, those who are eligible for treatment are currently on treatment and have achieved viral suppression. In the face of dwindling resources from donors, we need to take ownership of the HIV response at the state, at the local government to ensure sustainability of the gains already recorded by the state government, implementing partners and stakeholders in the HIV response.”
It is worrisome that SACA has not been funded in the past five years. Perhaps this is one of the reasons the gains recorded in the fight against HIV/AIDS are being eroded.
A representative of UNFPA said: “Since 1988 when the 2020 goal of eradicating the disease was instituted globally, World AIDS Day has been observed every year. The question is: How far have we gone? For us in UNFPA, we believe more should be done to ensure that the disease is eradicated.”
The State Program Manager of a leading funding agency, fhi 360, Henry Ayuk, applauded the state government for introducing the health insurance scheme known as Ayade Care, saying it is the best comprehensive universal health coverage in the state.
“For us in HIV sector, we see it as a welcome policy because it will remove all the hiccups such as user fees and things like that. Certainly, this is the way to go. But unfortunately, in the items shortlisted for coverage, I did not see HIV.
“From 2004 to the present, HIV prevalence has been reduced from 12 percent to 6 percent in the state. There are about 200,000 people living with HIV in Cross River State. These are expected to be fished out and treated. Unfortunately, we have only 30,000 on board for treatment. It means there are 170,000 that have to be captured and made to undergo treatment.
“The burden of that is clear. That clearly falls on the shoulders of government to provide leadership. Everything should be done to domesticate the funding for HIV treatment since the support we have from donors is dwindling. That is the way forward,” he said.
Lafarge, the cement manufacturing giant which sponsored this year's event, said they rendered the support as part of their corporate social responsibility and to promote a healthy nation.