INCREASING GLOBAL ACTION ON AIDS
President Goodluck Jonathan's recent call for global action against the spread of HIV/AIDS at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters should be heeded by world leaders to sustain the gains made so far in the global war against the pandemic.
The president promised to increase HIV/AIDS funding from seven percent to 50 between now and 2015; eliminate Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV by 2015; and increase national health funding to at least 15 percent.
While pledging the nation's support for multilateral action against the disease, Jonathan warned of the danger the world would face if it fails to take action now. He urged the Security Council to add HIV/AIDS to its security programmes.
The president, who also intimated the UN of his sub-regional transport project among the member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), explained that the action was aimed at halting and reversing the spread of the disease among the military and para-military.
According to him, 'as the largest contributor to peace keeping in Africa and fourth largest in the world, Nigeria has a major stake not only in ensuring that our armed forces are protected against HIV/AIDS, but also given adequate treatment.' He assured that the nation is committed to sustaining the momentum and ensuring that it increases its level of engagement with the security services in African countries to reduce the impact of the pandemic.
Latest statistics on AIDS reveals that it is a major cause of death of women aged 15-29 worldwide, as well as one of the leading causes of death for men in this age group. Many new HIV cases worldwide are said to involve young people aged 15-24. And in four of the world's seven regions, young females are more likely to be living with HIV than young males. In Eastern and South African countries with adult HIV prevalence of 10 percent or higher, prevalence among girls and women aged 15-24 is two to three times higher than it is for their male counterparts.
In Nigeria, the 2009 estimate shows that adult HIV prevalence rate among those aged 15-49 is 3.6 percent while in young people aged 15-24, the prevalence is 2.0 percent. No doubt, the magnitude of the pandemic is enormous, especially in poorer countries where there are fewer resources to combat it. More worrisome is the fact that the disease is the eighth leading cause of death among adolescents aged 15-19 and the sixth leading cause among 10-14 year-olds. In fact, preventing the transmission of HIV is one of the most important challenges for adolescent survival and health. Since the disease does not spare the youths who are the future workforce, world leaders should work in concert now to checkmate its spread.
To this end, there is need for preventive measures since there is no known cure yet for AIDS. The world should step up efforts geared towards education, enlightenment and awareness of the condition, and availability of caregivers. Mother-to-Child transmission of the disease must be halted to ensure that unborn babies are spared the agony of HIV.
We support the president's call for intensified global action against AIDS as a way of retaining the gains already made. All the agencies in charge of checkmating the disease like the National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA) must be well funded. The same goes to its state and local government counterparts. All donor funds should be audited to ensure that they are adequately utilised. There must be accountability in the way the funds are managed.
As the research to get a cure for AIDS is ongoing, the only antidote against the disease is behaviour modification among the people. Though, condom use has been quite useful in reducing the spread of the disease, we believe that abstinence, which is rooted in our cultural values, will go a long way in cutting down its spread. People should be encouraged to go for voluntary HIV testing to know their HIV status. It is the first step towards fighting the disease.
Another factor that fuels the pandemic is stigmatisation of those living with it. Nobody should be discriminated against on account of HIV status, whether positive or negative. Now that Jonathan has identified what to do to solve the problem, he should put measures in place to ensure that the right thing is done. He should ensure that the Ministry of Health is properly equipped to be in the forefront of the war against AIDS and other diseases that afflict the citizenry. This matter should go beyond rhetorics.