The summit of African heads of state in Abuja on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria the other day, will have meaning once the pronouncements made are backed up with actions and agreements reached are implemented. Until then, the applause should be muted. Several of such meetings have been held in the past without action plans, while the scourge of these diseases persists. At the moment therefore, concrete action and not rhetoric is needed to curb the diseases.
African leaders had converged in Abuja to review progress and work out a more impactful universal framework for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria scourge in Africa. Tagged African Union Abuja + 12 Special Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the objective was to review achievements and challenges in managing the diseases.
Citing a report jointly prepared by AU, UNDP and African Development Bank (AfDB), AU Chairman and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegu, said about 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have reduced new HIV infections by more than 25 per cent and made considerable reduction in AIDS’s mortality. He cited Ethiopia among the few countries that have reduced cases of HIV/AIDS by more than 50 per cent.
Chairperson of the Permanent Representatives Commission on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, Ambassador Kongit Sinegiorgis also said encouraging achievements have been made over the past decade on the diseases through the joint efforts of governments, development partners and communities. The success stories, he said, should inspire other African countries still lagging behind to scale up their efforts in the coming years.
President Goodluck Jonathan used the occasion of the summit to launch a new initiative on HIV/AIDS, designed to achieve universal access to the prevention, treatment, care and support for all Nigerians living with HIV.
The President’s Comprehensive Response Plan (PCRP) initiative was to demonstrate Nigeria’s commitment to the Abuja Declaration 2001, which mandated African countries to take measures to halt and reverse the progression of the infection in Africa. Accordingly, the programme was developed “to promote greater responsibility and accountability for HIV/AIDS responses at national and sub-national levels”.
Notwithstanding what appears to be a glimmer of hope in the fight against the three debilitating diseases, a lot still needs to be done. For instance, with regards to HIV/AIDS, it is important to note that gaps still exist in terms of prevention, treatment, social protection, care and support, as well as resource mobilisation and strengthening the system of service delivery.
The call by President Jonathan for African leaders to exploit local means of tackling not only HIV but also TB, malaria and other infectious diseases would require a strong financial backing by states, for scientists to research on these diseases.
It is pertinent to ask how many African countries are willing to give such support. How many centres in Africa are well-equipped with research laboratories where in-depth research on the diseases is going on? In Nigeria where there is little research activities due to poor funding, how would this objective be met? Exploiting local cures would require increased funding by African leaders.
The point must be made that while the authorities are doing their best to tackle HIV/AIDS infection, the populace must be enlightened to change lifestyles that predispose them to infection. The enlightenment should come from not only the government but schools, religious institutions and social organisations. Self-discipline is key to HIV/AIDS prevention. At present, one in 20 adults live with HIV in Africa. This is very bad news.
In the case of malaria, it is remarkable that despite the endemic nature of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa and the efforts so far made in tackling it, the disease’s prevalence remains worrisome. Statistics show that every minute, a child dies of malaria. This is in spite of the fact that malaria deaths in Africa have reportedly fallen by one-third, compared to the year 2000. More than a million lives have reportedly been saved since 2000. The Roll Back Malaria partnership programme has contributed in no small measure.
Experts say a malaria vaccine might offer the greatest hope of achieving significantly improved malaria control in Africa, where ecological habitat has made mosquito control a difficult task. Developing a malaria vaccine will be a major breakthrough. The Global Malaria Programme recently disclosed that a trial of malaria vaccine is on-going in 11 sites in seven African countries. This is a good starting point.
Finally, there has been the rising scourge of TB in Nigeria, which experts blame on inadequate and ineffective compliance to treatment. Many sufferers are uninformed, which complicates the matter. This scenario is not different in other African countries. The burden of dual epidemics of HIV/TB in Africa is a growing concern. Some 13 per cent of all TB cases are reportedly infected by HIV, particularly, in Africa, where rates of HIV infection are high.
Incidentally, treatment for TB has been made free through the Global Fund, an international financing institution that fights AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. African countries should, therefore, take advantage of the Fund. The continent cannot make progress when a large proportion of the population is unhealthy. The significance of the Abuja summit would be how to re-energize all the programmes and actions aimed at combating these diseases.
This article was originally published on The Guardian Nigeria