Nigeria marks World AIDS Day 2004

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria launching the UNDP Nigeria HIV/AIDS 2004 Report at the rally/campaign to mark World AIDS Day 2004 in Abuja, Nigeria

Nigerians, including the President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, turned out in their hundreds at the Eagle Square, Abuja on 1st December 2004 to take part in a rally and campaign – one of the major activities to commemorate this year’s World AIDS Day (WAD) in the country.

Referring to the theme of this year’s Day, Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar announced that the present administration would pay more attention to gender issues in tackling HIV/AIDS since majority of those affected are women and girls. Statistics reveal that about half of the almost 40 million adults living with HIV worldwide are females.

Alhaji Atiku who enumerated the achievements of the Federal Government in the fight against HIV/AIDS since it came to power in 1999, disclosed that the government’s Anti Retroviral Treatment (ART) programme would be scaled up from its present 25 centres to 100 centres, from where about 350,000 People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) would benefit.

He appealed to people not to stigmatise or discriminate against PLWHAs but to give them material and spiritual support. He then thanked Partners who have been supporting the government in the fight against HIV/AIDS and asked for their continued support.

As part of the event, Vice President Atiku Abubakar launched the United Nations Development Programme Nigeria HIV/AIDS 2004 Report. The Report takes an in-depth look at HIV/AIDS in Nigeria and its effect on the dimensions of human development including the capacity for people to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable and to have a decent standard of living.

With an official prevalence rate of 5%, 3.5 million PLWHAs, 1.5 million AIDS orphans and 300,000 deaths annually, HIV/AIDS has become a “generalized epidemic” in Nigeria. All the six geo-political zones of the country are affected and the prevalence gap between the urban and rural areas has narrowed down significantly. The burden of infection continues to be borne by young people, with more females than males affected.

At the rally, the Coordinator of the Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS, Dr. Pat Matemilola, describing the theme of this year’s Day as very apt, commended the present administration in the country for its efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS, especially its ARV programme. He however appealed to the Government to give more consideration to the issues of youth, gender, poverty and opportunistic infections in the fight.

A song performance by a select group of youth from across the country titled, “Another Challenge” as well as an exhibition by various stakeholders featured at the event.

At another event held later in the day, the Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo performed the celebratory launch of the Emergency Plan Partnership between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the United States Government. Through the partnership, the United States Government would provide support to the Nigerian Strategic Response to HIV/AIDS through The Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

The Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is a $15 billion Initiative of the President George W. Bush administration aimed at providing support to fifteen countries in their fight against HIV/AIDS, over a period of five years. Twelve of the countries, including Nigeria, are in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Nigeria, the targets of the Plan are to treat 350,000 PLWHAs with ARVs; prevent 1,145,545 new infections and provide care and support to 1,750,000 HIV-affected individuals including 400,000 orphans and vulnerable children. Sixteen states in the country will be initial beneficiaries of the programme, gradually expanding to twenty two states.

In performing the launch. President Obasanjo said the HIV/AIDS epidemic had started to take its toll on national development, as it now poses a serious challenge to sustainable development in the country. He said his administration believed that the natural cause of the epidemic can be changed hence it had placed HIV/AIDS as a priority.

While welcoming the assistance being offered by the Bush administration, the President appealed to the United States Government to provide the wherewithal for the domestication of the technology and skills for the manufacture of ARVs. This way, he said, sustainability would be assured and Africans would be able to take charge and control of their lives.

President Obasanjo also on the occasion launched two documents meant to aid proper administration of ARVs in the country. They are Guidelines for the use of ARV drugs in Nigeria and Plan to scale up ARV treatment for HIV/AIDS in Nigeria: 2005 – 2009. The documents were produced by the Federal Ministry of Health with support from the World Health Organization and some other Partners.