Abuja — President Muhammadu Buhari has declared that Nigeria will intensify efforts for local research and development as well as production of the required drugs for management of HIV/AIDS in the country.
Buhari, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, stated this yesterday during the 2017 World AIDS Day organised by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) at the Banquet Hall of the State House, Abuja.
He gave the assurance against the backdrop of the concerns expressed over the drop in foreign assistance and donations to the HIV/AIDS treatment in the country.
According to him, the federal government is aware that procurement of health commodities from foreign sources is not sustainable for a country with a huge disease burden like Nigeria.
He said: "In order to overcome this challenge, the federal government is working with relevant stakeholders to provide an enabling environment to promote the local manufacture of health commodities that meet global standards.
"The federal government is aware of the huge financial requirements for health including HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. In this regard, the 2018 budgetary provision for health will witness a substantial increase. However, this will not be adequate due to a number of other significant priorities. I therefore use this opportunity to call on state governments and the private sector to support the federal government's aspiration to provide universal healthcare for all Nigerians.
"As we hope to increase local resources for health in the coming years, it is important to establish effective accountability frameworks for the efficient use of resources. The federal government is not unaware of the tremendous contributions by development partners. I therefore wish to recognise the contribution of the United States Government; the United Kingdom; the United Nations system, the Global Fund; the World Bank; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other international partners. I wish to specially thank all organisations providing life-saving services to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Northeastern region of Nigeria.
"I assure you all that my government will give adequate attention to the effective implementation of policies that will promote sustainable development in Nigeria."
Speaking further, the president said the burden of HIV on women, young people and babies born with the virus in Nigeria and in sub-Saharan Africa remains a clog in the wheel of Nigerian socio-economic development.
This ugly situation, he stressed, is unacceptable to the federal government and to all well-meaning political leaders. This situation has been compounded by the insecurity challenges faced in some parts of the country.
"Only recently, I joined world leaders at the United Nations headquarters to discuss the issue of domestic funding to fight HIV/AIDS. At that meeting, several Heads of State in Africa and I pledged to commit more resources to the fight against HIV/AIDS. To demonstrate my commitment to this pledge, I have directed an additional 50,000 persons be placed on ARV annually starting from 2018. This is in addition to about 60,000 persons we are catering for in Abia and Taraba States," Buhari stated.
On funding, the Managing Director of Society for Family Health (SFH), Mr. Bright Ekweremadu, called on wealthy clerics who are said to have private jets to assist in funding HIV/AIDS management and reseach.
Ekweremadu noted this as a noble call as the usual donations and fuding from foreign countries and organisations have dropped significantly.
He stressed that "Nigeria has the second highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world and the government's budget cannot tackle the menace, it had become necessary to engage the private sector and wealthy churches.
"I read in a newspaper sometimes this week about a pastor who received a jet plane gift from his congregation and I do know that one of the leprosy colonies in Nigeria was built by a church in Uzuakoli (Abia State)."
"Shouldn't we also begin to dialogue with our churches to put some of the money they are making into taking care of the health of people? Again that will go into some financing integration."
Also speaking, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, lamented that despite several years of interventions, access to Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) for infants continued to hover around the 28 per cent mark for six years running.
Adewole described it as unsettling that prevention of mother-to-child transmission services are available only to 30 per cent of the pregnant population annually.
"These poor indicators are unacceptable and require a re-think around our coordination strategies for the containment of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria," he said.
In the same vein, the Country Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Mr. Erasmus Morah, expressed regret that men were refusing to come forward for HIV testing or treatment.
Morah, however, commended Buhari for promising to include more HIV persons under the government's care but argued that the 2018 Budget proposal was not adequate to cater to the needs of the 50,000 to be included in the government's programme next year.
Ealier , the Director-General of NACA, Dr. Sani Aliyu, said since the first case of HIV was reported in Nigeria in 1986, about 1.5 million deaths and over five million new HIV infections had been averted.
He said over 3.2 million people in Nigeria were living with HIV/AIDS but only one million people were on treatment.
The NACA boss revealed that it costs N50,000 a year to treat one person living with HIV which translates to N50 billion for the one million people on treatment, a cost which he said could not be undertaken by the government alone.
He said: "If we must take our response to the next level, we must address the challenges related to our health system infrastructure, unmet need for commodities, data quality and human resource for health and funding. These challenges constitute key barriers to universal access to HIV/AIDS services in Nigeria. It costs about N50,000 to provide ART to a person living with HIV for a year. With the size of our treatment programme (at over one million PLHIV on ART), we will require at least N50 billion Naira annually to keep them on treatment, while we require to triple amount annually to achieve and maintain ART coverage saturation in Nigeria.
"This underscores the fact that the federal government cannot bear this burden alone; state governments and the organised private sector must play their part. We certainly need to increase investment in the health of our citizens, optimize our response strategies and strengthen our coordination and accountability frameworks to achieve optimal returns on our investment in health."
Aliyu said Buhari has demonstrated political will to improve access to ART in Nigeria when, a year ago, he launched the Fast Track Plan to place an additional 50,000 Nigerians living with HIV on ART each year.
"He has also assured the ongoing provision of ART to the 60,000 PLHIV in Abia and Taraba States under the Presidential Treatment Programme since the inception of this administration. In addition, the National Assembly has committed to the implementation of the National Health Act provision of one per cent of the consolidated revenue fund for health from 2018," he stated.
The NACA boss also appealed to the state governors to align with the federal government's commitment to increased funding for HIV/AIDS, by committing at least 0.5 to 1% of their monthly federal allocation to address the unmet needs for HIV/AIDS in their respective states.
This, he said, will go a long way in addressing the commodity unmet needs and health systems strengthening in their state. It is time for greater state ownership of the HIV/AIDS programmes as this is the key to sustainability in the long run.
"They should also ensure that their health insurance schemes provide for HIV/AIDS services. It is a responsibility that we all owe to our citizens," he said.
Aliyu said that NACA is working with the Federal Ministry of Health and our development partners to conduct a national population based survey that will provide up to date data on the current burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 36 states and FCT.
Beyond HIV burden, he noted thay the survey will also provide reliable data on HIV incidence, rate of viral suppression among PLHIV on ART, and prevalence of hepatitis B and C.