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Living Well with HIV Possible Through Advances in Drug Therapy

Stakeholders are unanimous that Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), if untreated, has gone from certain death sentences to chronic disease people can live with.

The stakeholders, at a brainstorming co-creation meeting, in Abuja, to ‘Assess Communication Gaps and Opportunities for the HIV Response in Nigeria’, said Nigeria has made giant strides towards achieving the target of using drugs to make HIV undetectable and untransmittable. They said that using PreEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) before engaging in any risky behavoiur can prevent HIV infection, as well as using PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) after risky encounter like rape can also prevent infection.

The stakeholders, at the meeting put together by the United States President’s Emergency Preparedness Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through its partner Henry Jackson Foundation Medical Research International (HJFMRI) Ltd in collaboration with Journalists Against AIDS (JAAIDS) Nigeria and Living Health International, are optimistic that if observed gaps are bridged, the country can meet the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) target of eliminating the virus by 2030 or rather 95-95-95.

UNAIDS, in 2014, launched the 95-95-95 targets. The aim was to diagnose 95 per cent of all HIV-positive individuals, provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 95 per cent of those diagnosed and achieve viral suppression for 95 per cent of those treated by 2030.

The five-day meeting, according to the organisers, is the first in a series of conversations aimed at identifying the gaps across diverse media channels, the emerging HIV trends and format needed to disseminate these key messages across the diverse media platforms.

The meeting brought together journalists, programme implementers, affected communities, religious leaders, communication specialists, academics as well as government agencies, development partners and other key stakeholders to review progress and provide strategic direction.

An Advisor on Science Systems and Services, UNAIDS in Nigeria, Dr. Murphy Akpu, told participants that modern medicines mean HIV is not a death sentence.

Akpu said prior to 1996, HIV was a death sentence, but ART was made to suppress the virus. The physician said, now, a person can live as long a life as anyone else, despite having HIV.

He said drugs were also invented to lower an HIV-negative person’s risk of contracting the virus by 99 per cent. Akpu said, in recent years, research has shown that ART can suppress HIV to such an extent that it makes the virus untransmittable to sexual partners. He said it leaves the person living with the virus on life-long, costly medication, but it does not mean certain death.

“The drug, a triple combination, turned HIV from a fatal diagnosis to a manageable chronic condition. It suppresses the virus, preventing it from developing into AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), which makes the body unable to withstand infections.

“After six months of religiously taking the daily pill, it suppresses the virus to such an extent that it’s undetectable.

“And once a person’s viral load is undetectable, they cannot transmit HIV to anyone else, according to scores of studies including a decade-long study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United States National Institutes of Health,” Akpu said.

The physician, who was formerly a Deputy Coordinator of PEPFAR programmes in Nigeria, said public health bodies around the world now acknowledge that U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable).

He said PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) became available in 2012. “This pill works like ‘the pill’ – it is taken daily and is 99 percent effective at preventing HIV infection (more effective than the contraceptive pill is at preventing pregnancy).

“It consists of two medicines (tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine). Those medicines can mount an immediate attack on any trace of HIV that enters the person’s bloodstream, before it is able to spread throughout the body,” Akpu said.

The physician said he is supporting the PEPFAR country team to start the process of re-engagement with the media. He said for the longest time, the HIV programme has really been focused on treatment.

SOURCE: The Guardian