HIV/AIDS: Nigeria Sharing Responsibility Despite Covid-19 Outbreak By Olayemi Esan

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Nigeria is estimated to have nearly 1.9 million people living with HIV in 2019, according to UNAIDS, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS and government HIV/AIDS reports in 2019.However, how do things change amid COVID-19 pandemic?

Just like some other countries, Nigeria has been making efforts to end HIV until Covid 19 pandemic surfaced. 

Over the years, the country has shown steady progress on increasing access to treatment for people living with HIV, with the adoption of a test and treat policy. This measure has further accelerated referrals to treatment facilities for people who test positive for the virus. From 2010 to 2017, the country almost tripled the number of people living with HIV having access to antiretroviral therapy, up from 360 000 people in 2010 to more than 1 million people in 2018. However, the new estimates released today indicate that more than half of people living with HIV still do not have suppressed viral loads.

Despite significant efforts, progress in scaling up HIV services was already stalling before the COVID-19 pandemic. Slowing progress means the world will be missing the “90-90-90” targets for 2020, which were to ensure that: 90% of people living with HIV are aware of their status; 90% of people diagnosed with HIV are receiving treatment; and 90% of all people receiving treatment have achieved viral suppression. 

Missing these intermediate targets will make it even more difficult to achieve the end of AIDS by 2030.

The theme for the 2020 observance is “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Resilience and Impact”

World AIDS Day was first observed in 1988. Each year, organizations and individuals across the world bring attention to the HIV epidemic, endeavor to increase HIV awareness and knowledge, speak out against HIV stigma, and call for an increased response to move toward Ending the HIV Epidemic

COVID-19 & AIDS

According to UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima in her message, COVID-19 is threatening the progress that the world has made in health and development over the past 20 years, including the gains we have made against HIV. Like all epidemics, it is widening the inequalities that already existed.

She said, “Gender inequality, racial inequality, social and economic inequalities. We are becoming a more unequal world”.

Byanyima said, “I am proud that over the past year the HIV movement has mobilized to defend our progress, to protect people living with HIV and other vulnerable groups and to push the coronavirus back”.

“Campaigning for multimonth dispensing of HIV treatment, organizing home deliveries of medicines or providing financial assistance, food and shelter to at-risk groups, HIV activists and affected communities have again shown they are the mainstay of the HIV response. I salute you!”

“It is the strength within communities, inspired by a shared responsibility to each other, that has contributed in great part to our victories over HIV” she said.

As the first COVID-19 vaccine candidates have proven effective and safe, there is hope that more will follow, but there are serious threats to ensuring equitable access. We are calling on companies to openly share their technology and know-how and to wave their intellectual property rights so that the world can produce the successful vaccines at the huge scale and speed required to protect everyone and so that we can get the global economy back on track.

The experiences learned from the HIV epidemic can be applied to the fight against COVID-19. As in the AIDS response, governments should work with communities to find local solutions. Key populations must not bear the brunt of increased stigma and discrimination as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 is a serious disease that is set to hit the countries with the highest burden of HIV very soon. Everyone, including people living with HIV, should take the recommended precautions to reduce exposure to COVID-19

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