In the face of dwindling international assistance, the government has to brace up and fill the gap
On Monday last week, hundreds of people living with HIV picketed the National Agency for Control of AIDS (NACA) to protest the neglect and inadequate funding that has led to the death of thousands of their colleagues in recent months. In the course of the protest, the headquarters of NACA was barricaded and sealed off by the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN). What gave the protest greater significance is the timing: It came at a period when international donor agencies have started reducing their funding of HIV/AIDS programmes in Nigeria.
Under normal circumstances, NACA and NEPWHAN ought to work together for the common purpose of fighting the deadly virus in our country. But going by the protest, one can easily conclude that all is not well in their relationship and it is important for those who manage the health sector in Nigeria to intervene on the issue. According to NEPWHAN, the protest became necessary because of “the miserable conditions of people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria as well as high number of people dying daily from AIDS-related complications due to lack of access to antiretroviral drugs, and the ongoing withdrawal of funding support for HIV/AIDS to Nigeria by external funding partners.”
It is indeed noteworthy that the United States (US) government has indicated its intention to withdraw from funding HIV/AIDS programmes in Nigeria.
Given the commendable efforts of the US government in helping to fight the scourge on our shores, this would have serious consequences except the federal government moves in quickly to fill the gap. Unfortunately, funding has always been an issue while the NACA management has not shown enough transparency in the management of SURE-P funds earmarked for HIV projects. Granted, the Director General of NACA, Professor John Idoko has attempted to explain the rationale behind the current challenges, such explanations fail to clarify many of the damaging allegations by NEPWHAN.
However, we understand that the problem is compounded by the bottlenecks in releasing funds from the Federal Ministry of Finance and the dilly-dallying on funding from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF). Yet going by the need to immensely reduce the HIV pandemic, now is the time for government to be realistic in its approach. The slow pace with which the HIV treatment and prevention programmes have been handled raises a lot of questions regarding commitment.
Clinically, with proven records showing that constant administering of the anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs have the potential of stemming transmission, the federal government should attend to the demands of NEPWHAN and fast too. We also call on NACA to show more transparency and openness in running the affairs of the agency. NACA’s argument that funds available can only go for two pilot states (Abia and Taraba) also needs to be re-examined. For NEPWHAN, it is expected that a more genuine approach should be adopted for airing their grievances instead of barricading and sealing NACA offices. We urge them to negotiate and discuss with NACA as they cannot use violent means to address a purely health issue.
That notwithstanding, government must come to terms with the fact that the US government is no longer committed to funding HIV/AIDS programmes in Nigeria. The implication is that Nigeria would have to muster the requisite fund for HIV treatment and prevention and there is no basis to shy away from such responsibility. With the battle to wrestle the disease half way won, it is too late to retract. Therefore, Nigeria should put more efforts to completely stop new transmission and improve the lives of those with the virus. The key word here is funding. That will resolve a lot of the logjam in the fight against the scourge.