Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and carries the second largest burden of HIV on the continent ( 3.1 million people living with HIV).With a feeble healthcare delivery system struggling to cope with providing basic services to millions of people, getting Anti-retroviral drugs to the over 1.5 million eligible people has been an overwhelming challenge. Most donor funded AIDS treatment services in the country are domiciled in urban health facilities, which have comparatively better access roads, larger workforce and more developed infrastructure (making it easier to achieve programmatic targets). Healthcare centres in rural settings remain largely forgotten, despite reports showing upward trends in HIV prevalence in many of these communities.
The AHF program in Nigeria has boldly risen to the challenge of taking HIV treatment and prevention services to rural communities, which have, over the years, been inequitably denied access to these life-saving interventions on grounds of their remoteness. Services are scheduled to commence by September 2011 in Benue and Kogi states, located in the part of the country ( North –central zone) where HIV infection is most prevalent ( zonal sero-prevalence of 7.5%, Benue 12.7%, Kogi 5.8%).
The mood in these communities, in anticipation of our program kick off, is captured by comments made by one of the clinic staff in Benue state:” We don’t know how to thank AHF for bringing this program to our community. Our people are tired of coming to the hospital because they know that we don’t have the drugs that will make them better. The few who are strong enough go to the town to get the ARVs ( a 1.5 hour journey on bad terrain). Others just remain in their homes till they die. We really thank you for not forgetting us”
Through joint planning and open communication with existing leadership structures from the outset, AHF is working to ensure ownership of its HIV/AIDS programs by host health facilities, communities and governments as well as leverage in-country resources to overcome the numerous challenges of initiating a new program.