A 3-day regional conference on ways to strengthen early diagnosis and treatment for HIV positive children has opened in Abuja.
African countries including Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria are participating in the event.
Globally, 1.8m children are said to be living with HIV with greater percentage of this number in African countries. Since the beginning of HIV epdiemic, 5m children are estimated to have died globally with the number still rising especially in Africa.
This informed the conference which is organized by Caritas International, the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, and UNAIDS.
The purpose of the meeting is to promote wider engagement of faith based organizations in the diagnosis and treatment of children living with HIV in the continent.
Speaking on the theme of the conference, the Catholic archbishop of Abuja, His Eminence Cardinal John Onaiyekan stated that proper engagement of religious institutions was key to HIV prevention among children in the continent.
“There has been a delayed awareness and emphasis on children living with HIV/Aids. The interest is likely more with the adults. If the government decides to embrace faith-based organisations then things will move, but if there is difficulty of working together, then we will remain apart.”
The executive secretary of Caritas Nigeria, Reverend Father Evaristus Bassey called on the government of Nigeria to recognise the contributions of faith-based organizations in HIV treatment and care.
“Without the support of foreign government agencies, many of faith-based facilities will crash under the weight of their challenges, and government, except in about two states, has no heart to recognise that these facilities are serving the poor people and therefore require their intervention.”
For the deputy executive director of UNAIDS, Dr Louis Lawrence, African governments should encourage and empower faith-based organizations for prompt, effective testing and treatment for children living with HIV.
In the words of Miss Sandra Tauman from the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, reversing the statistics of children with HIV in the continent lies in the involvement of religious institutions.
Deputy chief of missions, US embassy in Nigeria, David Young also reaffirmed the critical role of faith-based organizations in health-care.
Nigeria’s health minister, Isaac Adewole represented by the director general of NACA, Sani Aliyu spoke on the steps taken to address the high burden of HIV among children in the country.
“Over 80 percent of our comprehensive HIV treatment centres are offering pediatric anti-retro-viral services.”
The conference continues today in Abuja.