Wednesday, November 30, 2011

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Getting to Zero: Let humanity march on against HIV/AIDS

Getting to Zero: Let humanity march on against HIV/AIDS


Today, December 1st 2011, is a World AIDS Day. December 1st of every year is a date set apart by the World AIDS Campaign's Global Steering Committee in collaboration with United Nations to mark the march of humanity against the most dreaded and vicious diseases ever-recorded in the annals of man. Between 1981 when first cases of AIDS were first recorded and 2011, an estimated 40 million people, including a large percentage of children have succumbed to terrifying onslaught of AIDS worldwide.

The term "Getting to Zero" is the motto chosen to guide the vision of the global crusade against the scourge of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome from this year till 2015. The first motto chosen in 1988 when the first World AIDS Day was celebrated was "Communication" which underlines the imperative to spread the knowledge with a view to stemming the tide of the pandemic.

The campaign has since been sustained on various inter-related themes and this year, the WAD GS Committee flags off "Getting to Zero" campaign which runs till 2015.  This campaign means efforts would be geared globally towards ensuring there is Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths.

Since 1988, diverse activities in the forms of lectures, symposia and other forms of public enlightenment campaign have been held on World AIDS Day. The day also has also been witnessing memorials in honour of those who died of AIDS amidst other activities. 

Sadly, there has not been much progress made in our local parlance.

In Nigeria today, the proliferation of drug abuse, sexually-transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, booming sex trade, human trafficking, and poverty have collectively combined to check the momentum of the campaign.  Our society still reeks with ignorance; with level of awareness abysmally low.

What is meant by the level of awareness is not simply whether or not people have heard about HIV/AIDS, yes almost everybody has heard about it, but not many  have "informed awareness' on the matter. For example we have many people who still believe AIDS can be cured by drinking "prayer water" or chanting of incantation!

At national level, our fight against the scourge has not been systematic; the AIDS concerns have not been built into governmental decision making processes. There is no well-concerted national crusade to comprehensively tackle the menace on all fronts, thus, the sadistic virus keeps baring its lethal fang with terrifying consequences.

Furthermore, the callous culture of discrimination against the carriers has shown no sign of abatement. How many Nigerians have access to adequate HIV prevention, treatment, care and support?

Within the framework of the global theme, the professed focus for Nigeria this year is "Prevention of mother to child transmission" but illiteracy and poverty have hampered the optimal pursuit of this objective. 

To make the matter worse, our foreign partners are getting discouraged to synergize with us. Only recently, an international financing institution which donates fund globally to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, Global Funds, threaten to blacklist Nigeria by "suspending" or "terminating" any further aids to the country.

The reason was the alleged fraud involving some Nigerian non-governmental organisations to which the Global Funds had dispensed to a large projects funds. The Office of the Inspector General of Global Funds claimed to have discovered the fraud in a recent audit of 15 grants totalling US$474,519,260 disbursed between 2003 and 2009, which was meant to be employed in saving lives of innocent Nigerians.

The organisations that were allegedly involved in the fraudulent diversion of the funds ironically included the National Action Committee on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NACA) despite its vaunted Comprehensive National Strategic Framework on AIDS! 

Against NACA, the report states, "The National Action Committee on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria incurred extra-budgetary expenditures of $71,000 in addition to $679,000 as unretired expenditures"

The remaining organisations indicted are Yakubu Gowon Centre for International Co-operation, the Society for Family Health (SFH), the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP), the Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH), the Christian Health Association of Nigeria (CHAN) and the CHAN-MEDIPHARM.

(A fuller report of the scandal involving these NGOs had been published in the Insight in the National Mirror newspaper of October 27, 2011)

Given the above scandal that seems to discredit both the private sector and government initiatives in fighting the global scourge, it is obvious that Nigeria does not only need to contend with AIDS virus, we need to fight the corruption virus as well. Should we allow the malevolent corruption virus to continue making alliance with the intractable AIDS virus to unleash the misanthropic holocaust on the nation? How sad that what is getting to Zero here is not AIDS, but the ethics of integrity, honesty and due process!

Be that as it may, let our people commemorate this special day with the rest of the world in synergetic rise against our common pathological enemy. Let us continue in the battle by propagating the informed awareness against AIDS; let us put on the red ribbon which is the symbol of solidarity with those living with AIDS -Let us unite to spread the message and not the virus!


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