The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) said yesterday that Nigeria is third on the list of countries with high HIV/AIDS prevalence.
USAID said at a public hearing at the House of Representatives that about four million people in Nigeria are currently living with the dreaded disease, which number is the 3rd highest HIV/AIDS burden globally.
The statistics was given during a public hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on Health on a bill for the establishment of a National Agency for the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS (NAPACA)
In a presentation at the public hearing, Natalie Freeman, deputy director of USAID/NIGERIA, said that Nigeria needed to evolve a multisectoral approach to tackle the problem head on in view of the spread of the disease.
She said that the United States has pledged to assist Nigeria by providing anti-retroviral drugs to 350,000 infected persons and supporting 1,750,000 infected persons, including children and orphans. This is to be achieved between now and 2008.
"To achieve these goals, we need a mechanism that will ensure a transformation of the National Action Committee on Aids (NACA), giving it increased authority to mitigate the impact of the HIV epidemic in Nigeria."
While expressing support for upgrading NACA from a committee to an agency, USAID said that it would simplify the coordination of an effective national response. It pledged to assist the by providing the agency with necessary technical and logistic support.
"It is commendable that Nigeria is about to join the consortium of African countries that have established full-fledged and legally recognised HIV/AIDS agencies to coordinate their responses to the pandemic in their nations."
Meanwhile, Prof Babatunde Osotimehin, the national coordinator of NACA had said disclosed that the prevalence rate of the disease is five percent, according to a 2003 survey. This translates to about 4 million Nigerians living with the disease.
He said that his figure, "is not small at all. It is a large number of people."
He added that the government of Nigeria has ordered the scaling up of the number of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) on its anti-Retroviral (ARV) treatment programme to 250,000 as a way of fighting against the spread of the virus.
According to him there are 25 treatment sites scattered across the country where ARV treatment is provided.
Asked when HIV/AIDS will be completely eradicated in the country, the NACA boss said, "if you mean getting on top of it, that will be very soon. But if you mean totally wiping HIV/AIDS out of Nigeria, that will take a long time because as we speak some people are being infected. That may imply that it will be ten years before they manifest AIDS. What we can hope for, and that is what we are doing, is to reduce the incidence"