A Call to Action on Prevention as NACA hosts HIV Conference in Abuja

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Nigeria has the second largest burden of HIV on the African continent, with an estimated 3.5 million Nigerians infected and 60,000 new babies born HIV positive every year. With an increased global focus on the need to scale up prevention and fund the treatment and the science behind the fight for a cure, the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) is convening a conference on HIV Prevention just in time for World AIDS Day 2016.

From Nov. 29 – 30, NACA will host a scientific conference themed, “Hands on for HIV Prevention” to showcase the achievements of the AIDS response in Nigeria. The 2016 HIV Prevention Conference promises to bring together a range of experts to advance knowledge, present new research findings and enhance scientific and community collaborations. There is a growing toolkit available for HIV prevention interventions to reduce HIV infection by targeting behavioral, biomedical, and structural risk factors. Increasing availability of antiretrovirals (ARVs) seems to have distracted from prevention. Debates remain about the use of new tools like post exposure prophylaxis and microbicides and the declining use of old tools like condoms. All these issues will take the centre stage at the conference.

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Dr. Akudo Ikpeazu, Chairperson of the HIV Prevention Conference Organising Committee, said, “We welcome participants from all sectors of government, business, community, civil society, and academia. It is my hope that participants will take advantage of the conference and the opportunities it presents for networking, forming new collaborations and strengthening old partnerships to strengthen HIV prevention efforts.”

Nigeria still has a long way to go towards HIV Prevention, with the annual global reduction in new infections stalling at about 2 million infections. A study published in The Lancet during this year’s International AIDS Conference in South Africa, showed that tragically 74 countries saw increases in rates of new infections between 2005 and 2015, raising the alarm on faltering prevention activities.

“Hands On for HIV Prevention 2016” will look at the issues around prevention and treatment under four broad categories in a bid to paint a comprehensive picture of where we are as a country in the fight to end AIDS by 2030; behavioural, biomedical, structural, and key populations.
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A special session on Biomedical HIV Prevention Research titled “The national HIV prevention landscape: potential impact of use of PrEP in Nigeria” will be held at the conference. Speakers for this dedicated session include Dr. Ioannis Hodges-Mameletzis, a Consultant on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) at the World Health Organisation. He is a specialist in HIV molecular evolution, with a special focus on HIV-2 infection – the non-pandemic strain of HIV primarily found in West Africa.  Also speaking is Dr. Nelly Mugo, an obstetrician, gynaecologist and a principal research scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute. Her research focus is on HIV prevention and reproductive health research. Dr. Nyaradzo Mgodi will address ‘What is new in the biomedical HIV prevention field’. She is currently the lead investigator for a large phase III clinical trial assessing the safety and effectiveness of Dapivirine Vaginal Ring in the prevention of HIV-1. Another key guest speaker is Kare Moen, Associate Professor, Department of Community Medicine and Global Health, University of Oslo.

In addition to the conference presentations there will also be a pre-conference skills building workshop to build capacity of health and development workers. The pre-conference session will hold on Monday, November 28, at the Congress Hall of the Transcorp Hilton Hotel.

As the world focuses on ending AIDS by 2030 and with only 41% of the people living with HIV on ART treatment globally, it has become increasingly clear that we cannot treat ourselves out of this epidemic. This is despite the progress made over the past 16 years in countries like South Africa, which has put 3.4 million people on treatment since 2000 and reduced mother-to-child transmission by 85%, from 90,000 to about 5,000 per year. In Nigeria the numbers on are uncertain, with an estimated 750,000 people on ART treatment, and roughly 90% of those on treatment funded by donors such as The Global Fund, PEPFAR, and other partners. With the highest burden of paediatric HIV infection in the world, Nigeria also needs to focus on how it can prevent mother-to-child transmission as well as ensure that those children who are infected live a productive and healthy life.

Charlize Theron at a press conference during the AIDS 2016 Conference. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch
Charlize Theron at a press conference during the AIDS 2016 Conference. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

That the HIV Prevention Conference will dedicate a segment to discussing key population issues is important, as this was also one of the highlights from the AIDS 2016 Conference, where Charlize Theron emphatically stated that, “As long as we let racism, sexism, poverty and homophobia get in our way – the epidemic will continue.” We hope that as the discussions concerning key populations are raised at the conference, the issues surrounding access to health services and HIV care and treatment by these populations in light of the laws criminalising homosexuality in Nigeria will also be debated.

Acting DG of NACA Dr. Kayode Ogungbemi, noted that Nigeria’s national response aligns with the present global direction of increasing HIV prevention efforts. The HIV Prevention Conference 2016 will showcase the achievements of Nigeria, the lessons learnt, and also set the pace for tackling prevention gaps.

The focus by the Nigerian government on prevention is timely, necessary and critical, if we as a country are to move forward in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We need to not only reduce the statistical burden we carry, but also fully engage the available science and research evidence base to give hope to millions of Nigerians who are waiting for a cure.

The HIV Prevention Conference holds at the Transcorp Hilton from Nov. 29-30. For more information about the conference, visit hivprevention2016.com. Registration for the conference is closed, but your Nigeria Health Watch team will bring you live updates from the conference venue. You can follow the conference proceedings live on Twitter using the hashtag #hivprevention2016, and you can follow NACA on Twitter @NACANigeria.

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