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 Saturday 15 December 2007
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NIGERIA: Local government slow to react to AIDS crisis

Photo: Sarah Simpson/IRIN
Families affected by HIV/AIDS in Benue State rely on community-based organisations that receive little support from local government.
BENUE, 9 November 2007 (PlusNews) - Nigeria's east-central state of Benue holds the unenviable record of having the highest HIV infection rate in the country. According to a 2005 survey, 10 percent of its estimated 2.8 million inhabitants are HIV-positive.

Once the bread basket of Nigeria, many agrarian communities in Benue have ceased to farm as younger generations have moved to urban areas. The resulting high levels of poverty and unemployment have led to risky behaviours, such as alcohol abuse, and young women exchanging sex for food and other essentials. Low levels of knowledge about the virus, especially in rural areas, have probably also played a role in the state's high HIV prevalence.

The state government has made declarations about its commitment to reducing the spread of HIV but, according to support groups for people living with HIV, such declarations have not translated into action.

Coordinators of support groups spanning four local government areas (LGAs) in Benue told IRIN/PlusNews that Local Action Committees on AIDS (LACAs), set up by local government councils to implement national and state AIDS programmes, had achieved little, especially in rural areas.

"We don't get any support from them. We know they exist but they hardly invite us to whatever they do," said Thomas Kaseve of Devine Support Group, which assists its 336 registered members with transport and food.

Without such help, made possible by a grant from an international NGO, Kaseve said the plight of HIV-positive people in his area would be even worse. "The pervasive poverty among the members has been a challenge to them going to hospital to access medical services."

People starting antiretroviral (ARV) treatment through the federal government's programme are supposed to be seen by a doctor but, according to Kaseve, a shortage of doctors at the local hospital had made access to treatment even more difficult for his members.

LACAs are supposed to be funded by local government councils, but few councils have made budgetary allocations for AIDS programmes, so the LACAs are forced to rely on international donor funding for projects that are largely concentrated in urban centres. Several LACA officials, who did not wish to be named, told IRIN/PlusNews that their organisations could only perform depending on funding that was rarely available.

We met the LACA people, we talked to them and told them our plans and we told them the things we have on the ground. We have not got any positive response from them," commented Joseph Ameh of another support group in Benue established by the Catholic Church.

"The Church has given us an open hand to come and talk about issues of HIV and AIDS. Apart from the Church and the Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN), there is no other support from outside."

Ameh said there was a need to expand its programmes to three other areas in the state that currently lack programmes to support people living with HIV. "There was a meeting we held with the community leaders and they all gave us an open hand to work with them," he said.

Council officials did not respond to the complaints by the support groups, but the state government has long expressed its determination to reverse Benue's high HIV infection rate.

"The 10 percent prevalence rate we have in Benue State is unacceptable, because any society with a 5 percent prevalence rate is in a state of emergency," said Dooshima Suswam, the wife of the state governor.

Grace Wende, co-ordinator of the state's AIDS programme, has urged those responsible for the implementation of HIV/AIDS-related programmes to show more commitment and diligence in reaching their target audience.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Care/Treatment - PlusNews, (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (IRIN) PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.