•NACA deserves commendation for successfully seeing NAIIS through
With the unveiling, on March 14, 2019, of the Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS), the country made a significant progress in its efforts to have an accurate statistics on the size, distribution and determinants of HIV/AIDS, as well as the impact of interventions. The survey, which was conducted in nine states with a $70million grant from the United States of America and $20million from the Global Fund, was done in collaboration with the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and some other partners.
As the director-general of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr Sani Aliyu, noted, NAIIS was informed by the desire to close the gap between the individuals on treatment and those projected to be in need of services, which past interventions could not adequately address. About 225,000 persons drawn from 97,000 households across all the local government areas of the country were involved in the NAIIS sample; with at least 3,000 members of staff collecting and reporting data in the field while the survey was on. This makes the survey scientifically robust and representative of the general population.
An elated President Muhammadu Buhari said at the unveiling of the survey result that “recently, the national HIV programme and our development partners have faced challenges in measuring progress against targets and efficiently utilising scarce resources due to gaps in our HIV data. This result will provide the government with information to move forward in the HIV fight based on scientific data. We are already a step ahead in this regard.” The president also launched the Revised National HIV and AIDS Strategic Framework 2019-2021, which will form the future response to the country’s epidemic.
That is the way it should be, if, truly, information is power. Nigeria should benefit immensely from this endeavour, which has been acknowledged by some experts as the largest survey on HIV. It means the government would not be fighting HIV from the position of weakness but that of relative strength, given the information at its disposal. Previous efforts in this direction were ineffective because they neither matched the country’s size nor produce results that could be used to guide planning and response efforts.
We commend the donors, NACA and others involved in the project for their painstaking efforts to find a solution to what used to be a main source of headache in the country. With NAIIS, Nigeria is better positioned to achieve its goal of eliminating HIV/AIDS by 2030.
We must warn, however, that availability of information is not enough to take us to the Promised Land. Rather, governments at all levels must work with NACA towards a sustainable commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS. The agency and the ministries of health in the country cannot afford to rest now simply on account of having the relevant information to guide us in planning how to deal with HIV/AIDS.
Our government officials must remember where we are coming from, especially since 1986 when the first case of AIDS was reported in the country. NAIIS has at least made us know that the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria is at 1.4 percent, down from the 3.0 percent it was in 2014. This means about 1.9 million Nigerians are living with HIV; a marked improvement from the previous 3.1 million. We commend NACA specifically for this. It should continue to enlighten Nigerians on how to deal with HIV/AIDS issues.
It is gratifying that President Buhari appreciates the fact that it is not yet Uhuru. Hence, his admonition that: “however, we cannot celebrate yet as we are more committed to ensuring that more people are placed on treatment. Now that we have the data, I urge us all to work together to ensure that we deliver ahead of 2030.”
HIV/AIDS may not be as deadly as it used to be in the country, yet, no one should be under the illusion that it is no longer a significant problem, particularly in Africa.