THE National Agency for the Control of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) (NACA) on Thursday unfolded plans to launch a $150 million Human Immune Virus (HIV) Trust Fund before the end of the year.
Its Director-General, Dr. Gambo Aliyu, disclosed on Thursday that the agency was already putting modalities and structures in place for the trust fund to come to fruition. He told reporters in Lagos that the plan was in national interest, adding that the “fund will provide the seed money that can help Nigeria to cross the bridge when it gets there.”
The DG, who was in Lagos to seal a deal with one of the top players in the private sector willing to buy into the initiative, took over the headship of the agency in July after Dr. Sani Aliyu resigned a year before the end of his tenure.
Aliyu, who clarified that donor funds have not been exhausted and foreign donors have not called it quits, said the proposed trust fund would prepare the country for the ultimate ownership, management and funding of all activities geared towards the control of HIV/AIDS.
Since the groundbreaking report of the national HIV/AIDS indicator and impact survey (NAIIS) was unveiled by President Muhammadu Buhari in March, fears have been rife in the HIV community that international funders may leave for places where the deadly virus is yet to be kept at bay.
But, Aliyu allayed such fears, alluding to the NAIIS report, which showed that HIV prevalence dropped from 2.8 per cent to 1.4 per cent among adults aged 15-49 years, a feat for which Nigeria was widely applauded. He said the estimate showed that there are 1.9 million people living with HIV in Nigeria, with over a million people currently accessing treatment to achieve viral suppression.
The DG, who noted that the NAIIS findings have provided a reliable data to guide the future response to the epidemic, commended the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPAR) and Global Fund to Fight AIDS for helping Nigeria in its treatment and prevention services.
Aliyu, who was the country director for the University of Maryland Programmes in Nigeria and assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Maryland, said Nigeria had done very well in the fight to control the epidemic. He, however, added that it was not yet uhuru.
Aliyu said: “Nigeria has done very well in trying to get HIV under control; it is not controlled yet, but we are on that path. Indeed the intervention that has been put in place in the last 15 years has worked very well. And the governors have also promised to dedicate 0.5 per cent of their allocation to fight HIV in their states so that we can have sufficient resources to continue with our HIV prevention and control services, including advocacy awareness, supply of test kits and strengthening treatment services to make sure that there are no gaps.”
The DG also said Nigeria was currently funding the HIV prevention and treatment services in only two states, with the foreign partners footing the bills in the remaining 34 states and Abuja. Noting that there would be a shift in the ownership of HIV response activities in the country, the DG said: “Nigeria will eventually come forward to take ownership. That time is approaching because we are headed towards controlling the epidemic. Once the epidemic is controlled or as the epidemic shrinks, the money that foreign donors give to support the (fight against the) epidemic also shrinks. The goal is to sustain the services even after the donors have left. We will reach a time when Nigeria will be providing for 37 out of 37 states, instead of two out of 37 states”.
He added: “We want to have the mechanism in place to ensure resources are available for continuity. Let me add that the donor agencies have not indicated that they will leave us before we have the epidemic under check, but everything has a lifetime. As we have gradual disengagement of donor agencies, we can have gradual takeover that will look seamless; without any disruption. We want to make sure we have enough structures in place to continue to provide the needed services for people living with HIV in Nigeria – for testing and protection.”
The epidemiologist predicted greater HIV control, stressing that the NAIIS report had provided the information that guided treatment and prevention.
He, however, cautioned that the country needed to embark on proactive measures so that there could be continuity when funding by foreign partners stops.
Aliyu said: “We are on the way to having the epidemic under control. What happens after we have controlled the epidemic? What happens is that we will be required to sustain it. Sustainability means we are not getting new cases of infection or we are getting very few transmission is taking place or very few people are dying from HIV because they are getting good treatment.
He added: “At that level, we will have one issue to deal with because the people taking the drugs must continue with their treatment. They must continue to get their blood tested for the virus. For Nigeria, the funding and support we are getting will not remain forever.
“We and all the funders know that there is a level that donors will have to divert their resources to other places where the epidemic has not been controlled. Since our own has been controlled, they will want us to take responsibility. In taking that responsibility, that is where the issue lies.
“My goal in the next four years is to make sure that that sustainability path is created and actualised. And for this, we are looking at bringing in the private sector to participate in supporting HIV services in Nigeria.
“The private sector has a lot to contribute and has a lot to offer. And they are willing to contribute to help the government to control HIV; to help and partner with the government to sustain HIV control in Nigeria. Right now, we are partnering with the private sector to see how that is actualised before the end of the year. We want to launch what we call the HIV trust fund this year,” he said.