Since its first reported case in 1999, the Human Immuno Deficiency Virus, the causative agent of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), remained a major public health concern for both government and Nigerians. The scourge which attacks the natural immune systems, living the body at risk of all sorts of life-threatening diseases, has claimed many lives and left many children orphan.
At the forefront of fighting the scourge in the country is a non-governmental organisation, the AIDS Prevention Initiative for Nigeria (APIN). APIN began in Nigeria in 2001 as a project of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, the United States of America.
As Dr. Prosper Okonkwo, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of APIN explained, “We saw the need to become an indigenous organisation on our own. In 2007, APIN became registered in Nigeria as a local entity with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and we had a Board of Directors. As a project, we have been here for 18 years, but as an independent Nigerian organisation, we have been here for 12 years.”
He said that APIN became a wholly Nigerian international NGO with diplomatic status in 2008, but due to the US government policy to transfer ownership to its implementing partners, Harvard began the transition from 2010 and completed it in 2012 and thus APIN became the first indigenous entity to accomplish the objective of the US government.
With wholly Nigerian board, management and staff and working in eight states of the Federation, the organisation currently provides HIV care to more than 250,000 patients, representing about 25 percent of patients receiving Anti-Retroviral Therapy in Nigeria.
In 2005 APIN published “AIDS in Nigeria: A nation on the Threshold,” the first ever documented intervention efforts in HIV/AIDS in Nigeria,Dr. Okonkwo said.
Thirteen years after, the CEO said the organisation is again coming up with documented evidence of improvements from the massive scale-up of intervention in the national response in a new book entitled, “Turning the Tide: AIDS in Nigeria.”
According to him, the public presentation of the book will take place tomorrow, Thursday, at the International Conference Centre in Abuja, at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo as Special Guest of Honour.
At a pre-event media briefing, Dr. Okonkwo, said the book presentation is not just a major milestone in the history of the organisation, but a demonstration of its success in its mandate to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS scourge in the country.
The book, he said, documents its successes in the fight against the HIV/ AIDS epidemic in Nigeria in the last 13 years. He explained that the book presentation was coming after the release of the National AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) by President Muhammadu Buhari last month. The report showed that the AIDS prevalence index had dropped from 3.1 in 100 to 1.4 in 100.
“The HIV/AIDS response in Nigeria has evolved from a stage of denial and complacency, through the establishment and implementation of multi-sectoral response, to the current state of scale-up of quality comprehensive prevention, care and treatment programmes for infected and affected persons in Nigeria,” Dr. Okonkwo said.
He added that the gains of this enhanced and focused HIV/AIDS programming were evidenced in the recently released reports of NAIIS, which showed marked reduction in both prevalence and burden of HIV/AIDS in the country.
On the significance of the event vis-à-vis the recent achievement from the survey, Dr. Okonkwo said, “One of the things APIN has done which we have not taken credit for is that from the beginning we have been associated with the academic community and most of our works have been directed at that direction. When we started, we tagged our work: ‘AIDS in Nigeria: A Nation at Threshold. Thirteen years after, we say, ‘Turning the Tide: AIDS in Nigeria.’
“It would have been indicting on us if the result of this survey had come and there was no indication that the tide was indeed turning. We are very happy that this book, which is 551 pages, is coming at this time because it documents what the national response has been which led to this reduction. It has been widely received and the launch would be tomorrow, Thursday and we are expecting a huge government presence.
“Ironically, we started the book three years ago and the survey was from July to December last year. So there was no connection, but the result of the survey has shown that we have indeed made some impact in HIV/AIDS reduction in the country. We knew that on the field, things are happening, but the figures we are getting were not congruent with our efforts.“
“In support and total endorsement of this new book, the Federal Ministry of Health is pleased in partnership with APIN, Public Health Initiatives and the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, to invite you to the public presentation of this new book titled, ‘Turning The Tide: AIDS in Nigeria.’