Putting AIDS on the back foot

Yesterday was observed globally as World AIDS Day. The Day provides an opportunity for the international community to unite and fight against HIV, show support for people living with the disease as well as commemorate those who have died. The theme for this year’s commemoration is: “End Inequalities, End AIDS”.

The World AIDS Day was first held in 1988, four years after the virus was first identified. About 35 years after the appearance of the pandemic, more than 37m people are currently living with the disease (2.6m under the age of 15) and about 35m have died of the sickness, making it one of the most destructive plagues in history.

The world has come a long way since the new millennium in its collective effort at achieving the target of halting and reversing the spread of HIV. New infections have fallen by 35 per cent and AIDS-related deaths by 24 per cent in the past 16 years. Some 16m people now have access to antiretroviral treatment, more than 11m of them in Africa.

According to recent reports, some low and middle-income countries are already fast-tracking national AIDS responses. Most countries are doing their best, making substantial domestic investments, basing their HIV health-sector programmes on good data and simplifying prevention and treatment programmes. A good number of them have ensured that 60% or more of all people living with HIV are aware of their HIV infection and receive antiretroviral treatment.

However, despite this global effort and collaboration of donor funding which accounted for 75 per cent in recent years, last year alone, over two million people were sucked in by the virus worldwide – averaging 230 every hour and 5,600 daily – while about 1.2m died of the infection. About 9.4m are not even aware of being carriers of the virus.  Of the 37m people living with HIV, over 25.8m are located in sub-Saharan Africa where poverty holds sway, with about 790,000 adults and children killed on the average yearly since 2014, accounting for about 66 per cent global deaths. About 1.4m people became newly infected annually.

In contrast, only 85,000 new cases were recorded in the advanced Western and Central Europe and North America with only 26,000 deaths in 2014.According to available statistics, the United Kingdom appears to be harbouring the lowest number of people living with HIV – about 100,000 in all. In Eastern Europe and Asia, about 140,000 new infections were recorded, bringing the total number of those infected to 1.5m, while 62,000 lives were lost within the same period. About 280,000 new cases were identified in the Caribbean, while 8,800 people lost their lives.

Nigeria, through the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and its state counterparts, has keyed into the global endeavour. Presently, there are over 3.4m Nigerians sickened by the killer virus, with women accounting for 58 per cent. The country has made significant leap away from the obstacles that initially made the war against the disease very difficult to confront, one of them being the stigmatisation of those infected. But this has reduced drastically, enabling many sufferers, known as PLWA (people living with HIV/AIDS), to be gainfully employed and fend for themselves and their families. The federal and state governments, NACA, reputable global organisations and philanthropists deserve commendation in this regard.

Also worthy of commendation is the global resolve to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target of ending the epidemic by 2030. About six years ago, a Nigerian university lecturer raised global hope for the cure of the dreaded pandemic. The lecturer, Professor Maduike Ezeibe of Michael Opara University of Agriculture in Umudike, Abia state, said he had discovered a drug that could cure the HIV virus while addressing the media in Umudike. The professor of veterinary medicine sought collaboration from the federal government, pharmaceutical industries and universities in the country towards mass production of his drug called anti-viral therapy.

The don further claimed that the anti-viral therapy was clinically accepted globally as a cure for HIV/AIDS because it had been tested on persons who were positive to HIV/AIDS and it worked effectively. He also said that the drug “brought down the viral load of some of those who had tested positive to HIV/AIDS’’. However, nothing much has been heard about the accomplishment.

Perhaps, one of the reasons why the epidemic has persisted for decades without a cure is the fact that it takes AIDS as long as 20 years to imperil its victims. It takes Ebola just a few days, hence the quick response in finding an effective solution to the virus as experienced in 2014. In line with this year’s theme, government at all levels, non-governmental organisations and stakeholders in the health sector should shift focus to the rural communities where awareness needs to be created so that people could come forward to verify their status. Knowing one’s condition is the way forward in putting the disease on the back foot as the war against the scourge rages, especially amidst the Covid-19 challenges.

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