3.4 million Nigerians are living with HIV/AIDS, National Agency for the Control of AIDS on Tuesday said.
Speaking at a Senate public hearing on a bill to prohibit discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS, the agency’s Director-General, Prof. John Idoko, said the figure makes Nigeria the country with the second largest HIV burden in the world.
Idoko noted that while the national prevalence stabilised at about four per cent, 13 states still carried higher burden.
Noting that the country was behind target in several important indicators, the NACA boss explained that one of every three people in need was currently receiving treatment.
Idoko, who said only 18 per cent of HIV positive women received prophylaxis against mother-child transmission, noted that more than 40 per cent of HIV positive persons did not know their status.
Declaring the hearing open, Senate President, David Mark called for an end to stigmatisation and discrimination against persons living with HIV.
Mark, who was represented by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Abdul Ningi, said the citizens should be educated more about HIV.
He lamented that many HIV positive people were afraid to go for tests or access necessary treatment because of negative societal behaviour.
“It is important for all to be educated to know that HIV is just like any other disease. Once identified, all a sufferer needs to do is to access treatment and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Infected people are hiding under common diseases like diabetes because of discrimination. They will not tell you that they are HIV positive for fear of being discriminated against in their workplaces.
“That somebody is infected does not mean he is not good or morally upright person or that he should be denied employment or barred from his social networks.
“HIV is a disease that can be contracted both intentionally and accidentally.”
Also speaking at the hearing, Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, noted that the HIV pandemic posed a big challenge to health and development across the world.
“In the countries that are worst affected, including Nigeria, the impact of HIV/AIDS have eroded decades of developmental goals and gains, stultifying economies and destabilising societies,” he said.
“There is no doubt that HIV is expected to continue to be a leading cause of mortality and morbidity in many countries and population, including Nigeria.
“We must begin to be proactive in the implementation of action plans that are workable and friendly, and advocacy must be carried out at all levels of the society.
“HIV poses a serious obstacle to the attainment of decent work and sustainable development and its effects are concentrated among the most productive age group.
“HIV problem has been made worse by the violation of their fundamental rights at the work place, schools, communities and the larger society on the basis of real or perceived status, particularly, through discrimination directed at persons living with HIV and AIDS.”