8 December 2012

Nigeria: Hope Rising for HIV Patients


Thalma, a 37-year-old accountant works in a multinational company. A thoroughly bred professional, she has worked tirelessly for her company until recently when she fell ill. She lives alone in a four-bedroom duplex in the heart of Port Harcourt.

Thalma closed very late from work this fateful day. Feeling very tired as soon as she got into her house, she sank into a chair in her apartment and slept off. She woke up in the middle of the night to see four hefty men. They were armed robbers. They gained free access to her apartment, because Thalma forgot to lock her door when she came in. After taking some items from her, they took turn and raped her. Thalma was devastated. She was tramaustised and went into coma. She woke up to see herself in the hospital.

As the days went by, Thalma recovered psychologically. As if that was not bad enough, they left her with a life-threatening challenge which she has to contend with. She was infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) by one of the armed robbers. Luckily, she discovered it early early, she has been on anti-retroviral drug.

Thalma is one of those lucky to have access to the anti-retroviral drug.

The Director-General of the National Agency of the Control of AIDS (NACA) Professor John Idoko says there were a lot of gaps in treatment and currently, less than 500,000 people were on anti-retroviral drugs, which was unacceptable because Nigeria had 1.5 million people in need.

According to him, the number of people living with the HIV and AIDS receiving anti-retroviral drugs increased from N230,000 at the end of 2008 to N500,000 at the end of 2011. "The number of sites for providing these drugs increased from 296 at the end of 2008 to 491 at the end of 2011," he said.

He said with the global financial crisis, funding was not as lucrative as before, but added that the target was to achieve zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths.

The World AIDS Day, observed on December 1, every year, is dedicated to raising international awareness about the virus. Professor Idoko explained that the theme for this year was, "Resourcing the National Response Towards Getting Zero Aids Related Deaths."

He said in 2011, more than two million people were tested, though the target was to test five million. "This is critical, because if we do not know who is positive, how can we make progress."

President Goodluck Jonathan represented by Secretary of the Government of the Federation, Mr Anyim Pius Anyim during this year's World AIDS Day said the government was contributing only 25 per cent of the total fund expended on the disease in the country.

The President, therefore, promised that it would increase to 50 per cent by 2015 while 80 per cent of all people living with the disease in the country would have access to life-saving treatment.

He, however, said "over a million people do not know their status for fear of being stigmatized and require treatment. Most of those currently on treatment are being supported by donor funds. In the light of evidence that treatment does not only save lives, but also serves as potent weapon for prevention, it is imperative that more investment is made in HIV treatment."

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