Despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria’s AIDS management agency, NACA, said about 350,000 Persons Living with HIV (PLWHIV) were identified within the last 18 months.

The Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Gambo Aliyu, made this known on Tuesday during a national dialogue on Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV(PMTCT).

The dialogue was organised by the National AIDS/STIs Control Programme of the federal ministry of health.

“Last 18 months, 350,000 people were identified and brought to treatment despite COVID-19. This number is a break from the previous 50,000 to 60,000 a year,” he said.

He said the agency accessed some rural communities to be able to identify the cases.

“From a few numbers of one-stop shops have amounted to over 60 one-stop shops all over the country and all these accounted for the 350,000 we were able to identify, instead of the traditional 50,000 to 60,000,” he said.

About 1.9 million people under the age of 64 are living with HIV in Nigeria, result from the Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) conducted in 2018 shows.

Mother To Child Transmission

Mr Aliyu said there is a need to tweak the existing strategy for the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in the country.

He noted that the number of women on HIV treatment has greatly improved between 2006 and 2019.

“It is not the PMTCT that is not working but the strategy that we have to tweak.

“If you look at the numbers we had as far back as 2006, we had about 13,000 women on treatment.

“Today, as we are talking, as of 2019, about 421,000 women are on treatment; this is over 200 per cent increment,” he said.

He lamented that six million out of eight million pregnant women are not attending antenatal care.

“So we are battling with 2 million that are attending antenatal care in implementing these services but for those that we have access to, the services are delivered well,” he said.

Mr Aliyu said the only way to eliminate MTCT is to take these services to communities.

“If we can do that, I guarantee all of us that in the next 18 months, we will see this huge rebound that we have noticed with ART surge,” he said.

Despite efforts and progress made in reducing the scourge of HIV/AIDS, Nigeria is still holding the unenviable position of the country with the most HIV-infected babies in the world.

While rates of Mother To Child Transmission (MTCT) of HIV are dropping, even in far poorer countries, Nigeria still accounted for 37,000 of the world’s 160,000 new cases of babies born with HIV in 2016 – the highest in the continent.

Challenges

In his remarks, health minister Osagie Ehanire said despite significant achievements in the HIV programme overall, there is an enduring challenge of persisting poor outcomes in PMTCT.

Mr Ehanire said the dialogue is prompted by the urgency to scale up sustainable programmes for PMTCT of HIV in an effort to eliminate new HIV infections among children.

“Nigeria, being one of the 21 priority countries in sub-Saharan Africa for the elimination of vertical transmission of HIV, committed to and endorsed The Global Plan.

“We agreed to be held accountable for achieving the set targets by 2015. Since then, we have implemented several pillars cutting across leadership, policy, and coordination,” he said.

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He, however, said data still points to overall underachievement in key result areas including PMTCT

“For example, PMTCT coverage is only 37 per cent and 21,000 new paediatric HIV infections were recorded in children aged 0-4 years in 2019,” he said.

He explained that major bottlenecks impacting PMTCT negatively include the variable coverage of antenatal care (ANC) services, unmet need for family planning, poor testing coverage for pregnant women, and poor tracking and retention in care for HIV exposed infants, among others.

“Overall, we estimate that 88 per cent of pregnant women who test positive are on anti-retrovirals (ARVs).”

He said political leadership and commitment at the highest level are crucial to PMTCT.

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