Today, the world is commemorating the World AIDS Day, with a huge leap towards ending the disease that has ravaged humanity since 1981. In 1988, the World Health Organization, (WHO) declared 1st December as World AIDS Day.
AIDS is a disease that has no cure and one that has resisted every human efforts. However, we have not arrived at this stage by accident. It was a history, replete with events connected to a disease that has social, economic, political and biological significance.
It is widely believed that HIV originated in Kinshasa, DR Congo around 1970 when HIV crossed species from chimpanzees to humans. Until the 1980s, we do not know how many people developed HIV/AIDS. HIV was unknown and transmission was not accompanied by noticeable signs and symptoms.
While sporadic cases of AIDS were documented prior to 1970, available data suggests that the current epidemic started in the mid to late 1970s. By 1980, HIV may have already spread to five continents, (North America,South America,Europe,Africa and Australia).In this period, between 100,000 and 300,000 people could have already been infected.
By the end of 1981, 270 reported cases of severe immune deficiency among gay men of which 121 of them had died.
In September that same year, the Center for Disease Control, (CDC) used the term ‘AIDS’ for the first time, describing it as a “disease at least moderately predictive of a defect in cell mediated immunity, occupying a person with no known case for diminished resistance to that disease”.
In May,1986, the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses, said that the virus that causes AIDS will officially be called HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and in 1987, the FDA approved the first antiretroviral drugs, zidovudine as treatment for HIV.
The fight against the disease experienced a big leap in 2011. Result from the HPTN 052 trial showed that early initiation of antiretroviral treatment reduced the risk of HIV transmission by 96 percent among sero discordant couples. In other words, the risk of infecting one’s partner who is negative has been reduced to this percentage. What a big leap indeed! The same applies to mother to child transmission which has been proven to be at a zero as we speak now, albeit with proper management.
In 2015, UNAIDS announced that the MDGs relating to HIV and AIDS had been reached six months ahead of schedule. The target of MDG 6- halting and reversing the spread of HIV, saw 15 million people receive treatment.
However, statistics have shown that we have so much to worry here in Nigeria and Taraba state to be precise. The report is not pleasant at all to the ears and indeed a wake up call to government, civil society and the entire citizens.
According to the Wikipedia report, “of all people living with HIV globally, 9 percent of them live in Nigeria” and that “the size of Nigeria’s population, there were 3.2million people living with HIV in 2013”.
Meanwhile, according to nigeriainfobox.com and ( NACA January,2016), Taraba state is rated 2nd of the top ten states in Nigeria with the highest HIV prevalence, with 10.5% behind Rivers which has 15.2%. Does that ring a bell?
But what could be responsible for the high prevalence rate in Nigeria and particularly Taraba? By the way and for clarity, ‘prevalence’ means a state of something being common or widespread.
According to the NACA report, the barriers to HIV prevention in Nigeria include legal barriers, social barriers, structural barriers and economic barriers.
In Taraba state, the lack of antiretroviral drugs, ignorance, poverty and drug addiction are certainly barriers that hinder the fight against the disease, which goes to say that the prospects of checking the spread of the disease lies in curbing poverty, funding the purchase of drugs for infected persons,voluntary testing and counselling,youth employment and sensitization on the dangers of drug abuse.
As you read this piece, one youth is abusing drugs,one is idle and exposed to hunger, one lady is contemplating hooking up tonight with a rich stranger, one AIDS patient is lost as to how to access her ARV drugs and so many young men and ladies are out there ignorant of what HIV/AIDS is and the unfortunate thing is, “what you don’t know is bigger than you”.
Efforts to meet with officials of the Taraba AIDS Control Agency (TACA) was unsuccessful as on approaching the office by 9am today, none of the staff was on ground, except the security man.
However, the Taraba state Commissioner of Health, Innocent Vakkai, asked to be excused to attend to some official matters first.
Ultimately, the secret behind the total eradication of this disease is in our attitude as humans. The human being is the carrier and has the capacity to spread it. Should the over 3 million Nigerians carrying the virus abide by the rules in the management of this disease, then the prevalence rate may reduce and even get to a zero level one day.
If the prevalence rate gets to zero, there won’t be any possibility of another person getting infected anymore. If that happens then time would be the only factor to be relied on for a total eradication of the disease.
We have done it for Ebola and HIV/AIDS should not be different.