By Kemi Yesufu
The Federal Government taken the first step to solving the challenge of verifiable data on HIV/AID in the country as it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States government to conduct a survey on the disease.
The MoU signing ceremony conducted at the Federal Ministry of Health on Thursday is a follow up to the announcement by both governments of an agreement to carry out a survey on HIV/AIDs and Hepatitis C of which 170,000 Nigerians will participate in.
The Nigeria AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS), which is expected to be the largest ever on HIV/AIDS in the world, has the University of Maryland Baltimore as implementing partner.
The minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, the Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr. Sani Aliyu signed the agreement on behalf of the Nigerian government.
This is while the U.S Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington signed the MoU valued at $110 million on behalf of his government.
The U.S government is financing the survey.
Speaking before the signing ceremony, Director-General of NACA, expressed optimism that data from the planned research will aid in creating and implementing the right policies.
He announced that the field trial aspect of the survey will be completed before the 2019 elections and the data will be ready for presentation in a year’s time.
“The first thing I noticed when I resumed work in NACA was the problem of data. The precision of the data and our inability to know exactly how many people we have living with HIV.
“This survey is a household survey, that will cover about 170 thousand people in the country. It will be nation wide. It is going to be complex. It will be the largest survey ever done in the world for HIV. It will be the most expensive.
“But there is a reason behind it (survey). We have struggled in the last few years to define the true extent of the HIV epidemic. We have struggled with how to find patients to put on treatment and we have also struggled to present to world the resources that have been put into the response. This survey will sort all these things out”, Aliyu said.
On his part, the U.S envoy called on Nigerians to fully support the survey, saying the success of the research was critical to the country recording better health outcomes.
He said: “There has not been a greater opportunity in Nigerian history, for every Nigerian, woman and man to come to the aid of their country, than right now, to make Nigeria healthier.
“There have been in recent weeks, days and months, many things that people have pointed to as indicators, of things that might pull people apart…even of things that cause people sorrow.
“But this survey, this partnership, this opportunity to lift up the health of all Nigerians and to set an example from Nigeria to the continent and the world, is in the power of every Nigerian who participate in this survey”.
In his remarks, the minister of Health described the survey as the landmark intervention, that will end years of Nigeria depending on others for statistics on HIV/AIDS.
Adewole was particularly optimistic on how much data collated from the survey can assist in the provision of health services as Hepatitis C, another incurable disease will be covered in the survey.
He commended the government and people of the United States of America for remaining major supporters of Nigeria, especially in the area of healthcare.
Adewole assured that the full details of data collated from survey will be made public. He also promised that,though government will be monitoring the survey, it will ensure the implementing partners enjoy total freedom.
“The survey will really put behind us, the concept of making guess-work in terms of the burden of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria”, he stated.