By Ngozi Onyeakusi—- No fewer than 1.6 million Nigerians died of HIV/AIDS since the outbreak of the disease in 1985.
This was disclosed by the country representative of Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) in Nigeria, Dr Erasmus Morah during a candlelight memorial for people who died from the disease in Nigeria, organised by Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN) on Monday in Abuja.
The candlelight memorial is part of activities to mark the 2020 World AIDS Day on December 1, annually celebrated since 1988.
The World AIDS Day is an international observance day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic, caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who died of the condition.
The theme for the 2020 observance is “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Resilience and Impact” to focus more attention to the HIV scourge, increase awareness and knowledge, as well as speak out against stigma.
The UNAIDS representative, therefore, expressed UN’s determination to protect people living with the virus by providing financial assistance, drugs and foods for communities, noting that “UNAIDS is the main advocate for accelerated, comprehensive and coordinated global action on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”
He called for increased collaboration among stakeholders to check the spread of the scourge and described persons living with HIV as indispensable community in the HIV response.
Morah also reiterated UNAIDS’ commitment to championing global solidarity against stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.
In his remarks, the director general, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr Aliyu Gambo, emphasised the imperatives of testing in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Aliyu said test is important in intensifying the fight against HIV.
“The gateway to HIV reduction is testing. After testing, you either take the two packages of Prevention and Care or treatment, thereby reducing the viral load,” he said.
He added that testing is necessary in achieving the 95-95-95 target of the UNAIDS by identifying 95 per cent of infected persons and placing them on treatment.
Also speaking, the national coordinator of NEPWHAN, Mr. Abdulkadir Ibrahim, called for unity against discrimination and marginalisation of the vulnerable community.
Ibrahim, who harped on the global theme of the 2020 World AIDS Day; “Global Solidarity and Shared Responsibility”, emphasised the need to carry all along and let no one be left behind.
He also stressed the need to build people-oriented resilient health system which was gender sensitive and rights-based for an end to HIV.
Ibrahim, who said the lack of investment in health exposes a lot of countries to HIV infection, called for epidemic preparedness capacity “to beat the next health security challenge.
“It is within this context that NEPWHAN commenced the implementation of the community-led monitoring initiative in Nigeria by collecting quantitative and qualitative data among people living with HIV.
”While we look forward to continued collaboration, working and partnering with everyone for the interest of people living with the virus and ending HIV by 2030, I want to appeal for support to government in the fight against HIV,” he said.
In her remarks, the project director, Global Fund Impact Project, Family Health International (FHI360), Mrs. Christy Laniyan, said the candlelight commemoration was an opportunity to show solidarity to people who were directly or indirectly affected, especially in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
She expressed the commitment of FHI360 in achieving HIV viral load reduction through provision of drugs and care.
Laniyan said FDI360 had been working toward reducing mother-to-child transmission of the virus through collaboration with NEPWHAN.