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FG tasks local firms on production of HIV drugs, test kits

By Chukwuma Muanya
03 December 2020   |   3:33 am
Determined to end Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the midst of COVID-19, the Federal Government has tasked local pharmaceutical manufacturers to begin production of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and HIV test kits in the country.

Anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) suppresses virus, prevents new infection

*Inaugurates national blueprint for integrating HIV into state social health insurance schemes

Determined to end Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the midst of COVID-19, the Federal Government has tasked local pharmaceutical manufacturers to begin production of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and HIV test kits in the country.

The Federal Government, Tuesday, on the occasion of the World AIDS Day (WAD) 2020 also inaugurated a national blueprint for integrating HIV into State Social Health Insurance Schemes.

Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, in a keynote address during the commemoration event of the WAD on December 1, 2020, in Abuja, said: “Let me urge our drug manufacturers in Nigeria that in line with the President’s Executive Order on local content it has become expedient for all efforts to be galvanised towards the production of Anti-Retroviral Drugs and HIV test kits within the country.

“I am happy to note that one of the documents to be unveiled today is a National blueprint for integrating HIV into state social health insurance schemes. To this end the Nigerian Government is grateful to all our Partners, The United States Government, United Nations Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) and indeed the UN system, The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for their collaborative roles in supporting HIV Prevention and Treatment services in Nigeria.”

The theme of 2020 WAD is, “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility.” Drawing from this, Nigeria has chosen as theme, “United to end AIDS in the midst of COVID-19: Get tested.”

Mustapha commended the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) and partners for coming up with this theme which not only captures the focus of the fight against AIDS but has brought to the fore the key global public health challenge we have faced as a nation and globally since the beginning of this year, the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said as chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 he had consciously taken steps to ensure that citizens would do the needful to avoid being infected or infecting others with COVID-19 and with two vaccines under trial potentially having more than 90 per cent efficacy, he believes that ultimately there will be ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.

Mustapha said Nigeria as a country aligns fully with the global solidarity and shared responsibility, which requires us to view global health responses, including the AIDS response, in a new way. He said the funding of additional 50,000 persons on treatment yearly by President Muhammadu Buhari is a clear testimony of Nigeria’s commitment to global solidarity and shared responsibility to leave no one behind and no one dies as a result of HIV. “The approved federal budget for 2020 has adequate provision for HIV to cover this Presidential commitment,” the SGF said.

Mustapha said the appropriation and release of a minimum of one per cent of consolidated revenue from the federation account to the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund (BHCPF) has provided a strong financial base for sustained funding of primary health care and set the tone for the implementation of State Social Health Insurance Schemes nationwide. He recommended that all States fully implement Social Health Insurance Schemes with the integration of HIV prevention and treatment services.

The SGF said the private sector demonstrated capacity to support health emergencies with the very laudable role played by the Coalition against COVID-19 (CACOVID). In line with this, Mustapha, therefore call on the private sector to work more with NACA and the Nigerian Business Coalition against AIDS for a sustained access to life saving medicines, vaccines and diagnostics.

He pledged Government’s commitment to ensure human rights are respected, rights of women and girls as well as gender equality are at the centre of providing health services as they work towards zero new HIV infections by 2030 and attaining the 95:95:95 global HIV/AIDS targets.

Director General NACA, Dr. Gambo Aliyu, in his welcome address said: “… self-testing for HIV is now a reality in Nigeria. With my personal demonstration of self-testing at Abaji in Bwari Area Council on Thursday, I encourage all Nigerians to take up the responsibility of knowing their HIV status by going for a test.”

Aliyu said Nigeria would continue to make great strides in her response to the HIV pandemic with the collaborative efforts of partners. He said HIV prevalence in the last 18 years had reduced from a peak of 5.8 per cent in 2001 to 1.3 per cent in 2018 and this implies that 13 out of 1,000 persons selected randomly in Nigeria are now likely to be positive. Alyiu said 44,830 Nigerians were estimated to have died from HIV/AIDS last year and the country has spent $6.2 billion to identify and treat 70 percent of Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV) and $1.2 billion of this was from domestic sources.

The NACA DG said fight against HIV had not been spared by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected the provision of HIV services across the country with a six-month interruption in services. Alyiu, however, said he is happy to note that HIV infrastructure was deployed to support COVID-19 with 25-30 per cent of COVID-19 tests conducted in six HIV mega laboratories, HIV sample transfer mechanism replicated for COVID-19 response in four States and over 15,000 HIV community volunteers from HIV stakeholders supported contact tracing, social mobilisation and the fight against stigma and discrimination.

He said the 2020 WAD annual lecture would address a key area of the National HIV Response yet untapped and that the topic “Galvanizing the Private Sector towards Fostering Country Ownership of HIV Testing and Treatment Services: Lessons from COVID-19 Experience” is apt. “I am confident that the presentations by our notable speakers will set the tone for renewed efforts towards domestic resourcing of the HIV response and provide insights on the capacity of our drug manufacturers to produce ARV drugs and test kits in-country,” he said.

Meanwhile, despite containing the spread of COVID-19 and maintaining HIV patient cohort, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) said it witnessed tremendous growth and achieved a major milestone this year.

According to a press statement from the United States Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria, Public Affairs Section Plot 1075, Diplomatic Drive, Central Business District, Abuja, PEPFAR is now supporting more than one million patients in the Nigeria national HIV treatment program, further closing the gap to reach HIV epidemic control in the country.

It noted that while facing unprecedented challenges, through innovations, PEPFAR helped to diagnose and place close to 6,000 HIV-infected Nigerians a week on treatment. “All, while maintaining the integrity and quality of services and while keeping the health care providers and PEPFAR staff safe. This not only reduced the spread of HIV within families and communities, but also ensured patients are virally suppressed, making it near impossible to pass on the virus,” it noted.

According to the statement, since 2003, the U.S. government, through PEPFAR, has invested more than $85 billion in the global HIV/AIDS response and saved more than 17 million lives, working in 54 countries. It is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in history.

It noted that in Nigeria alone, PEPFAR has invested more than $6 billion in the national HIV/AIDS response and some measures of its success include, more than one million, women and children currently on HIV treatment.

According to the statement, in Financial Year 2020 alone, PEPFAR has achieved the following in Nigeria: more than 8.2 million people have received HIV counseling and testing services; more than 1.2 million pregnant women received HIV testing and counseling toward prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV; approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV received support to improve quality of life, including TB/HIV care services and; about 1.3 million orphans and vulnerable children received care and support services.

It noted that PEPFAR also supports Nigeria in the critical areas of policy development, human capacity development, and overarching health systems strengthening, including provision of state-of-the art laboratories and pharmaceutical warehouses, to enhance Nigeria’s health systems to tackle not only HIV/AIDS, but other diseases.