AN estimated 2.9 million people living with HIV/AIDS out of 3.4 million Nigerians diagnosed last year are not receiving treatment needed to suppress the infection. Those affected, most of who are currently living in hiding, are not only at risk of death from HIV related illnesses, but are also infecting new people, causing a surge of the disease.
Nigerian HIV experts revealed this at a scientific symposium to mark this year’s World AIDS Day, organised by the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, in collaboration with Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, Lagos branch. In her submission, representative of the Population Council Abuja, Dr. Sylvia Adebajo noted that only 500,000 people are currently on treatment, while the 2.9 million largely men, serve as reservoir for the spread of HIV.
“Men do not go to hospital as much as women so they are the most difficult to reach. Those at higher risks include; women, homosexuals, men who engage with drugs and those who have sex with female sex workers.” Adebajo said the attitude of testing people and letting them go without follow up needs to be stopped, and more people, particularly men needs to be reached with treatment.
Director-General of NIMR, Prof Innocent Ujah regretted that despite that effective available for the diagnosis and clinical management, the AIDS epidemic still claims an estimated two million lives each year, of which about 270, 000 are children. “The multi – year theme since 2012 has been “getting to zero with the three main sub-themes of zero new infections, zero deaths from AIDs – related illnesses and zero discrimination.
Ujah who lauded the UNAIDS 90 – 90 -90 initiative said it was designed to have 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV infection receive sustained ARV therapy and 90- percent of all people receiving ARV will have viral suppression. “With 90 percent of those on treatment having viral suppression, there will be a drastic break of transmission of new infection and end the HIV/AIDS pandemic by 2030.”
He said NIMR will be conducting an outreach in Alimosho Local Government area of Lagos state to increase awareness on HIV/AIDS as well as enhance HIV counselling and testing.
Also in her presentation, on how to prevent new infection, Dr. Oladipo Fisher, from Lagos State AIDS Control Agency, LASACA, said early initiation of HIV positive people into antiretroviral drugs will decrease rate of new infection, as well as reduce HIV-related illnesses and deaths.
In the same vein, Consultant Haematologist at Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Prof. Sulaimon Akanmu, noted that people who test positive to HIV can possibly eliminate the virus if they commence treatment immediately they are diagnosed. “This will help bring their viral load to an undetectable level, where they will likely not infect other people, and is in line with the World Health Organization, WHO’s new treatment guideline for HIV/AIDS.”