Over the years, a lot have been done to exterminate or reduce the spread of HIV to the barest minimum. Many drugs have been invented to treat HIV. One drug that immediately comes to mind is the anti-retro viral (ARV). The ARV has been known to be very effective in HIV treatment as constant dosage reduces the viral load to zero. What this means is that any person living with HIV who is constantly taking the ARV will continue to enjoy sound health for as long as he keeps taking the drug. Another drug that has been found to be effective is one which injection a person takes once in a year. As the HIV positive person keeps taking this injection yearly, he keeps enjoying sound health. The injection reduces the viral load in his/her body system to zero level. However, this injection is very expensive and not very much available like the ARV.
STRATEGY FOR HIV CONTROL
Prior to the invention of the ARV, especially in the 80s and 90s, the world witnessed rapid spread of HIV infections and many people died of AIDS. During these periods, some drugs were invented which were helpful in the treatment of HIV but they were expensive and only few people afford to pay for them. As a result, the condition of majority HIV positive persons who could not afford those drugs worsened from HIV infection to full blown AIDS, leading to their eventual death. Worried by this development, the United Nations came up with two strategies for HIV response and control.The strategies are;
- The ARV should be made available everywhere;
- The ARV should be free so that every person living with HIV should obtain the drug regularly.
No doubt, these strategies have gone a long way in helping to treat and contain the spread of HIV. A front liner in the campaign for the right and welfare of persons living with HIV/AIDS once testified: “I am a living testimony to the effectiveness of the ARV. I have been taking the ARV for over 13years and I have been enjoying sound health.”
Currently, statistics shows that 63.9 million persons are living with HIV/AIDS in the world while 3.1 million persons are living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria and of the 3.1 million persons, 28% of them are children.
ACCESS TO HIV TREATMENT AND THE USER FEE CHARGE
The strategies for HIV control has been effective in Nigeria. For instance, the ARV are very much available in our health institutions and PLWHIV are accessing the drug. However, there are many people living with HIV who are finding it difficult to obtain ARV regularly due to the fact that they are being compelled to pay user fee before they can obtain it.
“User fee” means an amount that a person living with HIV is asked to pay before accessing HIV treatment. Towards the end of December 2018, a large number of persons living with HIV trooped out with various banners and posters to protest against the user fee charge. One of them who was interviewed by a journalist said that the user fee that is imposed by public health institutions was worsening his condition of health. He said each time he went to the public health institution where he normally obtain ARV, they would ask him to pay N1, 000 and sometimes N500 before giving him the ARV. He said further that anytime he didn’t have money to pay for the treatment, they will not give him the ARV. And once there is no ARV for him to take, his condition of health would start deteriorating. While they kept demonstrating against the user fee charge, the person living with HIV appealed to the government to remove the user fee charge so that they could have access to HIV treatment and enjoy sound health.
REMOVING HINDRANCE TO HIV CONTROL
The fact is, if we are going to make any head way in our national HIV response, we must remove anything that will act as a cog in the wheel of our progress
In Nigeria, we are very good at shooting ourselves in the foot or working agent our self. We always want to make things difficult for ourselves. HIV treatment have been made available for fee, yet our public health institutions have made user free mandatory for persons living with HIV to pay before obtaining the drugs.
Whatever may be the reason for introducing the user fee, the fact is that persons living with HIV are finding it difficult to access HIV treatment. Even the little amount of N500 and/or N1,000 they are been asked to pay before accessing treatment, are amounts which persons living with HIV/AIDS find it difficult to pay.
If persons living with HIV/AIDS cannot access treatment because of the user fee, how then will we be able to achieve our goal of controlling HIV infection come 2020? Obviously the user fee charge is a hindrance to our national HIVresponse. If we are really serious about controlling the spread of HIV infection, we should not hesitate to remove the user fee charge.
Lawyers Alert is therefore appealing to the Federal Government, the 36 States Government, the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the NACA (National Agency for the Control of AIDS), the SACA (States Governments for the Control of AIDS),Ministries of Health and other relevant agencies and institutions to expedite action to remove the user fee charge so that persons living with HIV can access treatment and enjoy sound health. It is when this is done that we can hope to achieve our goal of controlling HIV infection come 2020.