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With increasing number of infants living with HIV, Nigeria is failing to meet global target

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LAST year, 1, 359 infants in Nigeria tested positive to HIV, a spike in mother-to child-transmission when compared to previous years.

“1,359 is a challenge to us because we used to have less than 100 some years ago,” says Gbenga Ijaodola, assistant director in the Federal Ministry of Health in charge of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

“What’s going on? That’s already giving us concern,” Ijaodola says. He says the causes of the new infections are multifaceted but a reliable answer to his own question will be available in early 2019 when the results of Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey are expected to be released.

Regardless of the causes of new infections, Nigeria is moving against the global target of achieving zero new HIV infections among infants by 2020, as set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

These new HIV infections in Nigeria are abnormal considering that Cuba eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV in 2015. Belarus and Thailand followed suit in 2016.

To achieve the 2020 target, mother-to-child transmission rates of HIV have to be less than 5 per cent in breastfeeding populations or less than 2 per cent in non-breastfeeding populations for at least one year. Africa countries like South Africa, Uganda, eSwatini and Namibia have met the target of 5 per cent.

An infant is at the risk of contracting HIV if the mother is living with the virus. HIV can be transmitted from an HIV-positive woman to her child during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. But this transmission from mother-to-child is preventable if HIV-positive pregnant women are on antiretroviral treatment (ART).

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Without treatment, the likelihood of HIV passing from mother-to-child is 15 per cent to 45 per cent. However, antiretroviral treatment and other effective prevention of mother-to-child transmission interventions can reduce this risk to below 5 per cent.

An estimated 165, 474 pregnant women in Nigeria needed prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV services in 2017 but only 50,890 of these women were accessing antiretroviral treatment, according to data from the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCP). Eventually, 24,026 of these HIV positive women delivered of their babies in health facilities.

Source: National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCP)

Prevention of mother-to-child transmission started in Nigeria as far back as 2001 in six tertiary health facilities but Nigeria currently has the highest number of new HIV infections among children. UNAIDS estimated that between 22, 000 to 56, 000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2016 due to mother-to-child transmission.

Federal Ministry of Health estimates that 221,729 children are living with HIV in Nigeria and only 54,167 the children are on treatment.

It is widely believed that if Nigeria is taking prevention of mother-to-child transmission seriously, the country would not have this high number of children with HIV.

UNAIDS points out there has been little progress in reducing new HIV infections in recent years in Nigeria, adding that only one in three people living with HIV is on treatment.

According to the National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS 1, 090,233 persons (747, 853 females and 342, 380 males) are currently on HIV treatment in the country as at June 2018.

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Chikezie can be reached at comeje@icirnigeria.org. Follow him on Twitter: @KezieOmeje

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