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Tuesday, 4 September 2012


From 1986 till date, I for one as well as most other Nigerians have lived in perpetual fear of the unknown and the dreaded consequences of possibly contracting the Human Immune deficiency virus and the Acquired Immune deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS).
Back then, we were young stars in our early senior high school period at the very peak of enjoying our youth when from the blues, scientists bombarded the World with the discovery of HIV/Aids. Ever since, the World has never been the same even as most of us have resorted to either abstinence from sex or highly protected sexual relationship for those who are daring.
I have had firsthand experience of meeting some very close friends who lived positively with HIV and eventually lost the battle of their lives to the Acquired immune deficiency syndrome. As can be seen from the above, I am not one among those cynics who doubt the authenticity, existence and potency or otherwise of these health challenges facing members of the global community.
In my well over two decades of active journalism practice, I have made creation of awareness of the validity of HIV/Aids among Nigerian readers as the major focus of my media advocacy. Today, I have decided to reflect on the effort made so far by the scientists and other researchers to find a cure to the disease and also to highlight the less than impressive response of the Nigerian government through the Federal ministry of Health which has not actively supported effort of the home grown researchers on the possible cure for HIV/Aids.
This piece is inspired also by some positive results of some medical researchers in the international community towards finding lasting cure to HIV/Aids.
Why is this columnist so much interested in raising awareness on this important health development, you may ask? Well, I have watched two close male school mates and friends die from the effects of not knowing their status and subsequently failing to begin early treatment which resulted in these fatalities that have left a big emotional gap in my sub-conscious.
In my very active days as a reporter covering the health beat in Abuja for The Guardian, I took very meticulous interest in reporting developments concerning efforts made by home grown medical researchers on finding effective cure to HIV/Aids. I must confess straight away that I am not happy that the federal government plays too much politics with the issues around the area of encouraging local research on HIV/Aids but is interested in going cap- in- hand to international donor agencies in search of the elusive donor-funded financial lifeline to treat/HIV/Aids patients who have come out to be tested.
Years back when some claimants to cure of HIV/Aids came up, the federal government fought hard to discourage and paint these Nigerians as fake which made them (the claimants) to go back to their cocoons and refused to tender their findings for peer-review and scientific verification. The result is that indigenous medical researches on HIV/Aids are not known to be well funded unlike what obtains in other developed climes where even private sector funded effort are galvanized towards finding cure to Hiv/Aids.
I am not by any stretch of imagination dismissing the fact that Nigeria has a national policy on HIV/Aids but the issue is that officials of Government are known to be averse to supporting serious work of scientific research but are ever so willing to receiving foreign financial assistance because these officials have developed the lazy “food-is-ready” kind of tendency of always going cap- in -hand to beg the international community and much of these fund attracted end up in the private pockets of these officials of the Federal Ministry of Health.
A query my research assistant Miss. Nwamaka Asuzu typed on the internet and specifically a visit to the website of came up with a document posted on October 2009 titled the National policy on HIV/Aids of Nigeria in which only passing comments were made regarding the all important issue of what the Nigerian government is doing to support locally based and home-grown research on effective cure to HIV/Aids. From this document what is closest to government’s avowed commitment to battle the scourge of HIV/Aids through local research by Nigerian qualified scientists is the mention of the supervisory role of the Federal ministry of Health to oversight the discharge of the mandate by the Health-related agencies in the area of research on HIV/Aids.
In the document on the national policy on HIV/Aids jointly signed by Professor John Idoko for the National Agency for the Control of Aids and Alex Ogundipe who was identified as the Director of policy and strategy, the federal government stated thus; “The Activities of all diagnostic medically-related Laboratories as well as other health care institutions and practitioner’s in the country shall be monitored and regulated by appropriate government-approved agencies to ensure conformity with the guidelines relating to their professional practice”.
But the reality that several persons have died as a result of HIV/Aids stares me in the face daily even as I am worried that my home government rather than pursue comprehensive national policy on research on cure to HIV/Aids, has dissipated effort and scarce resources in the purchase of condoms for family planning. The Federal Government feels strongly that population issue far outweighs the critical issue of finding cure to HIV/Aids. I may be wrong and I am willing to be so corrected.
Specifically, the media reported on Friday August 31, 2012 that the federal government has approved $11.5m for the procurement of condoms and family planning commodities.
The Director of Family Health in the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Bridget Okoeguale, said this in an interview with Punch correspondent in Abuja at the 47th National Council Meeting of the Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria.
The truth is that even with the Aids break through announced at the recent international Aids Conference in the United States of America on possible cure to a strain of HIV/Aids, several thousands of people in the developing World Still die from complications related to HIV/Aids.
From the website of the United Nations Agency on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) estimates that as at December 2000 that there were 36.1 million people living with HIV/Aids (34.7million adults and 1.4 million children under age 15).
According to this reputable United Nations Agency, since the epidemic began, an estimated 21.8 million people have died of AIDS (17.5 million adults and 4.3 million children under 15).
An estimated 5.3 million new HIV infections occurred in 2000. During 2000, HIV-and AIDS-associated illness caused deaths of an estimated 3 million people, including 500,000 children under the age of 15.
In the United States: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are between 800,000 and 900,000 people living with HIV. Through December 2000, a total of 774,467 cases of AIDS have been reported to the CDC; of this number, 448,060 persons (representing 58% of cases) have died.
On July 26th, 2012, the Nation Newspaper’s editorial celebrated what it calls “Aids break through”, just as the Newspaper reported that the World is on the verge of a significant breakthrough in the fight against Hiv/Aids.
The Nation newspaper of Nigeria reported that Timothy Ray Brown of San Francisco, United States of America, who is known in medical circles as the “Berlin patient” declared “I am HIV negative. I am cured of the Aids virus.” Brown, 46, year old, was diagnosed as HIV positive 18 years ago and began anti-retroviral treatment.
His case was complicated by acute myeloid leukemia which was diagnosed in 2006. It was this diagnosis that has resulted in the possibility of a cure for Aids. His physician, German hematologist Gero Hutter, introduced Brown to a revolutionary treatment for leukemia that turned out to be cure for both diseases.
Salutary as this isolated positive medical breakthrough is, the Nigerian government must look inwards for effective, efficient and good cure for HIV/AIDS that is ravaging the younger populations of Nigeria because a nation with a healthy younger population is a nation that will surely become great and developed if the human resources are properly harnessed for productivity. Moreover, Nigeria's domestic economy will gain significantly if we eventually develop effective cure to Hiv/Aids locally.
* Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria, 

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