A drastic cut in funding, particularly from international donor agencies and epileptic inputs from the states and Federal Government on drugs, supplements and other vital items needed for the support and sustenance of persons infected with the deadly Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) across the country, has placed the lives of millions of citizens on the balance.
Several victims of the disease resident in Nigeria’s North-central geopolitical zone which has a record of high prevalence rate, in response to enquiries by our correspondents, said they were progressively dying in pains occasioned by the biting economic recession, as most of them live in abject poverty, and therefore, presently unable to afford good food, drugs and other necessities required daily for their wellbeing.
Reports indicate that since the debilitating economic hardship hit the nation, dozens of persons living with HIV/AIDs had died daily, but unreported, especially in remote communities, villages and hamlets where stigmatization was still high, while those who have seemingly lost hope in the battle for survival now literaly await death.
Abdulkadir Abubakar, Project and Monitoring Officer, Kwara State Action Committee for the Control of Aids (KWASACA), confirmed the gale of deaths, adding that with families not reporting the causes of death in some communities, with others dying at home, agencies saddled with the responsibility of HIV/AIDS management and control had been unable to gather adequate statistics on the ratio of death of the male, female and children.
However, Nusiratu Ahmed, a 34-year-old victim resident in Kwara State, adduced reasons for the current situation: “The cost and non-availability of the drugs especially, to poor people, is responsible for the high number of deaths of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA)”, she said in an exclusive chat with one of our correspondents, urging governments at all levels to intervene urgently by providing the requisite drugs at subsidized rates to reduce HIV/AIDS induced deaths silently sweeping across the country at the moment.
The Project Manager of Kogi State Agency for the Control of Aids (KOSACA), Dr Musa Gabriel, admitted that poverty is the major plight of HIV/AIDS victims in the country, as most of them neither feed properly before taking their drugs where available, nor have money to enable them access health facilities and receive drugs given to them free-of-charge.
Checks by our correspondents in Nasarawa, Benue, and Plateau States listed on the 4th, 8th and 19th positions respectively in the national prevalence chart, as well as other states in the North-central zone revealed an alarming, but subdued statistics of child and maternal mortality, with the states and federal authorities reeling out conflicting annual and bi-annual figures of victims, with most state governments keeping mum on the deaths occasioned in recent times by the deadly disease.
In Kwara State, Project Manager and Secretary, Kwara State AIDS Control Agency, Dr. Johnson Oyeniyi, disclosed that the state government had in the past six years committed N60 million to the fight against the dreaded HIV/AIDS, but expressed fears that the projected prevalence for HIV/AIDS for the state may rise to 2.8 percent of the 2.9 population, if active intervention does not commence now.
“We had expected that we would achieve three per cent prevalence rate on the average but now we have achieved 1.8 per cent. We are working with stakeholders to further reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS”, he emphasized.
Speaking on her plight, one of the people living with the disease in Kwara State, Nusiratu Ahmed said initially, she was stigmatized by her relations when diagnosed as being HIV positive because many of them started regarding her as promiscuous.
She confessed the situation had made her almost end her life by suicide, but with education and enlightenment, her people now assist and encouraging her to make sure she survived.
Gbenga Adeyi, a driver said when he was told of his status, it was as if he had received his death warrant, but with proper counseling and adherence to instructions from hospitals, he is living a normal life.
He said apart from his wife, no other person knew of his HIV/AIDS status as many would have taunted him at the slightest opportunity. But he said he has learnt a lot on the causes, symptoms and prevention of HIV, which he is also using in counseling people not presently.
Few years ago, issues relating to AIDS in Kogi State were despicably scary and frightening. The mere mention of the dreaded disease was enough to sink one’s heart; every sick person, especially those with considerable loss of physique and strength, were considered as having contracted the disease.
In 2001, when the trend of HIV/AIDS epidemic in Kogi State was high, the prevalence rate was put at 5.7 percent, but in subsequent years, it gradually reduced to 5.5 percent in 2005, and 5.1 percent in 2008. However in2010, it rose to a frightening 5.8 percent, until it was gradually reduced to 1.4 percent in 2012, a figure the state government had claimed in the prevalence rating till date.
Since 2001, a total number of 36,953 persons were cumulatively enrolled in the state as people living with HIV and receiving HIV care with 24,849 being female, representing 67.3 per cent, while 32.7 per cent are male.
Statistics at the Kogi State Agency for the Control of AIDS (KOSACA), indicated that of the 913, 679 women of reproductive age recorded, 22.7 per cent were pregnant, with 446 out of 775 testing positive between January and December, 2015.
Speaking with our correspondent, the project manager of KOSACA, Dr Musa Gabriel who declined to give the numbers of deaths so far recorded within the last five years including the numbers of orphaned children however, said there was a sharp drop of cases recorded in the state.
Dr Musa said though the state currently has 34 comprehensive health sites and 270 feeder sites where patients could get drugs or counseling, he regretted that the state has fewer CD4 machines which he said are used to initiate patients to know whether they could start treatment or not.
He disclosed that since the programme was donor-driven and mainly funded by World Bank in partnership with other agencies, the KOSACA contends with the issue of inadequate funding as the state merely contributes only about five per cent in terms of counterpart funding.
Our correspondent spoke with few of the patients at the Federal Medical Centre, Lokoja, where they came for treatment, though most of them were reluctant in responding to questions put to them, even as they declined taking their photographs.
Mrs Awwal Danladi, 27, a nursing mother who had been living with the disease since last year, said she tested positive to HIV during one of her ante natal sessions. “Well, I thank Allah for the early discovery of this disease, because this enabled the medical people to quickly rally round me and devised a means whereby my son was not affected too,” she revealed.
She said apart from her husband who is also positive, nobody actually knew in the family that she is positive except on days when she joined other victims on queue at the hospital to receive drugs.
For Bimbola, (surname withheld), a 23-year -old student of Kogi Polytechnic, Lokoja, she says, “ honestly, this disease is terrible and it could be more harrowing if your friends and neighbours discover you are having it; most times, I feel so much inferior in the midst of my friends and that makes me not to associate freely. I felt like committing suicide when I tested positive in 2013 and all kinds of negative thoughts came all over me, but with counseling and sermons from men of God, I made up my mind that I would not die now but live, and God has been helping me live positively with it.
“Initially, I faced discrimination from my family members who knew I am infected; as for friends, I doubt if anyone really knew, but I tell you, I always nursed self pity and guilt and this made me to discriminate against myself before anybody discriminates against me. But my life is in the hands of God, and so I must trudge on.”
Mr. Dominic Akuna a 34-years-old teacher at a private primary school in Lafia, Nasarawa state, and his wife, Judith, have been living with HIV for six years.
Despite their HIV status, their two children are both HIV negative because they are beneficiaries of the free prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) programme and Anti Retroviral (ARC) treatment of the Federal Government.
Akuna told our correspondent that they often do not get attention at hospitals in the state, just as drugs were not available for free as they were made to pay a certain amount of money before accessing consultation, drugs, screening of CD4 count and other baseline tests.
But Akuna attributed this development to shrinking donor funding and low domestic input as well as continued discrimination against PLWHAN despite the fact that an anti stigma law had been passed against stigmatization.
Forty-one year-old Abubakar Ibu, who had been living with the disease for 11 years, expressed regret that the country was gradually loosing the gains made in the response to HIV with the pulling out of international donor partners, while persons living with the virus in the country are now worried about their future.
Executive Director, Nasarawa State Aids Control Agency,(NASACA), Dr Zakari Umar, told our correspondent that the current statistics in his office show a total number of 93,595 people are living with HIV AIDS in the state, adding that 5,938 out of the total number are pregnant women, 24,500 are not pregnant, while 63,157 are male.
He said 67 babies are affected by the virus due to ignorance of the PMTCT, out of which 21 died and 46 survived and are currently receiving treatment in different centers, with the state government spending about N5billion naira yearly in the treatment and maintenance of HIV AIDS victims in the state. He debunked allegations by PLWHA that their services are paid for.
Following the aggressive enlightenment campaign against the spread of the dreaded HIV/AIDS in Niger State, the spread of the disease has dropped drastically from 7.0% in 2003 to as low as 1.2% in 2015, when the Niger State Agency for the Control of AIDS (NGSACA) became a full fledged agency in July 2007, following the passage of a bill by the House of Assembly.
The Director General, Niger State Agency for the Control of AIDS (NGSACA), Dr Adamu Baba, told our correspondent that from December 2015 to date, a remarkable achievement had been recorded in combating the epidemic, disclosing that in 2015, a total of 1,385,882 individuals which comprises 585,569 male and 797,293 female were counseled and tested. Out of this figure, 489,060 males and 599,485 females were tested negative, while 297,364, comprising of male and female tested positive.
He said 145 facility reports were submitted during the period under review, and after processing and analysis of the reports, a total of 594,507 pregnant women were counseled, tested and 7,333 of them were positive to HIV while 743 of them received Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) prophylaxis for prevention-Of-Mother -To-Child-Transmission.
On treatment of patients, Dr Baba said since 2007, a total of 99,529 males and 205,168 females were enrolled into the ART programme for pre-ART care, adding that currently, 5,350 male and 11,871 female are on treatment with 1st and 2nd line ARVs, bringing the number of victims on ART to 17,201 within the period. 5,245 male and 11,718 female are on 1st ARVs while 85male and 153 female are on 2nd line ARVs.
However, it was learnt that a major challenge currently facing the state in providing care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS is the exit of development partners who had hitherto funded various programmes for victims.
Presently, persons living with HIV/AIDS in Plateau State are not at ease. Victims who had lived with the disease for a period of time are battling to survive, while those who got infected recently appear to be begging for death.
On a recent visit to the Centre for Aids Preventive Initiative in Nigeria (APIN) at Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), persons living with the virus were seen queuing under unpleasant condition to collect the antiretroviral drugs with most women having their babies strapped to their backs.
The progressive prevalence of the disease in the state between 1991 and 2010 with a percentage of 7.7 is as a result of the establishment of over 27 anti-retroviral centres across the state which are also patronised by victims from the neighbouring states.
Our correspondent gathered that over 144,963 persons are currently living with HIV/AIDS in the state. However, while 132, 445 of these persons are eligible for antiretroviral therapy, only 35, 105 are on treatment as at December, 2015.
Statistics obtained from the Plateau AIDS Control Agency (PLACA), showed that 39, 942 persons lived with the virus in 2013, 33, 605 persons in 2014; 35, 106 in 2015 and 36, 310 persons as at September, 2016.
Also, about 5,937 children 0-14 years old, were infected with the disease between 2013 to September, 2016. While in 2013, 1,096 children suffered from the disease; 1,665 became victims in 2014, 1,616 in 2015 and 1, 560 in September 2016.
Reports indicated that 1,608 persons died with HIV/AIDS between 2013 to September 2016, while 91 children were infected, just as 11, 571 pregnant women tested positive to HIV in 2016, while 37, 043 persons are said to have died of the virus since it was discovered in the state in 1990.
Narrating his daily battle for survival, a 55-year-old victim, Salihu Ibrahim, said he has been living with the virus for 12 years, and each day had always been hell for him anytime he thought of his status. He says he had visited several herbalists in search of cure without success.
“I collapsed in the hospital in 1994 when the doctor told me that I had HIV/AIDS, he recalled in an interview with our correspondent. “I asked myself a question: the HIV/AIDS that I have been hearing about, so I am infected with the virus? I asked the doctor, so am I going to die? He replied no, there are drugs that will sustain you, yet I couldn’t believe him.
“I started thinking of who to put the blame on, incidentally, none of my wives and children were sick. I felt sick again for the second time and went back to JUTH where I was admitted; I thought of when I will die and at that moment, two ailments were discovered in me, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.”
His 35-year-old wife, Halima Salihu, said she was shocked when her husband told her he had HIV/AIDS. The mother of three said she was struck with the fear of death when her husband took courage to inform her that he was living with the virus. Sadly, she also tested positive to the disease she dreaded in 2004.
The battle for survival has not been easy for Hundatu Umar, a widow also infected with the virus. “I am the one looking for money to feed the family since my husband died of the disease and because of stigmatization, I joined the HIV/AIDS Support Group and we have been moving from one community to another, sensitizing people on the virus,” she said in a chat last week.
It was gathered that the Plateau State government this year, approved N552million for the Aids control agency (PLACA), saddled with the management of HIV/AIDS victims in the state, but only N65million had so far been released.
Executive Director of PLACA, Mr. Sunday Koka blamed the HIV/AIDS prevalence in the state to lack of prompt and inadequate release of funds in the past and applauded Governor Simon Lalong for paying the state’s share of counterpart funding and releasing f N65 million to take care of people living with HIV/AIDS in the state.
For many years, Benue State was rated as the highest in the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS with a very frightening statistics of over one million people living with the dreaded virus.
The situation was so bad to the extent that every Benue person was looked at as one living with the virus and therefore, be avoided as much as possible.
The situation was worsened by the number of deaths occasioned by the virus as well as opportunistic infection which was also on the increase, leaving many children orphaned and several others vulnerable.
But in the last few years, the story seemed to be changing with the reduction in the number of people living with the virus and the displacement of Benue from the first position to the ninth position on the national prevalence rating.
Our correspondent visited some selected health facilities in Makurdi, the state capital recently, several people living with HIV /AIDS were seen in their own world, laughing, relating with one another while waiting to be attended to by health workers.
In a brief chat with our correspondent, Grace, who refused to disclose her surname, narrated how she suddenly discovered she might have been infected with the dreaded virus shortly after the death of her first husband.
The mother of two, however, lamented the rigor they go through presently before accessing drugs that keep victims alive, appealing to the federal and state government as well as donor agencies to come to their aid.
For Iorseer, it all started when his wife started falling ill and the health challenge seemed to defy all medical and herbal intervention.”My wife kept having health challenges and the more we treated her, the more the illness seemed to persist. It was at that point that tests were conducted on her and she tested positive to HIV. Immediately her result was out, I asked to be tested also and my worst fear was confirmed. I am HIV positive too.”
He said after the initial fear of the unknown, both of them had to make their minds to weather the storm together by seeking to know what opportunities are there for them to begin to live positive and healthy with the virus.
Jacob Ubur, Coordinator of Peace Support Group at the General Hospital Katsina-Ala, in a chat with our correspondent, disclosed that his support group had 459 members comprising of 371 female and 88 male.
While commending the federal government in the area of provision of services like ARVs and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) to HIV clients, Ubur however, maintained that a lot more still needed to be done to alleviate the plight of people living with HIV.
In a chat, Ali Baba, President, Association of People living with HIV/AIDS in Benue (APHAB), said although stigmatization had reduced drastically in the state especially since the signing of the anti stigma law by the state government, infected people in the Idoma speaking area of the state were still hiding their status for fear of being stigmatized.
According to him, the major challenge facing people living with HIV in the state was that of funding which has been going down considerably, stressing that some of the services they were getting when the pandemic was at its peak were no longer free.
It is, indeed, trying times for HIV/AIDS victims agonizing over their fate daily with a burning feeling of abandonment as the current recession bites harder, leaving several of them hopeless and waiting for death to come knocking on their doors.