Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, through U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to help the Government of Nigeria to accelerate efforts toward HIV/AIDS epidemic control. A scientific article titled Rapid Scale-up of an Antiretroviral Therapy Program Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic — Nine States, Nigeria, March 31, 2019–September 30, 2020, released this Thursday, March 26, in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), published by the Atlanta-based CDC Headquarters, details how CDC Nigeria established an Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) Surge program, which accelerated progress toward HIV epidemic control in nine Nigerian states during 18 months.
An analysis of data from the CDC’s ART Surge program shows that the number of people living with HIV receiving PEPFAR-supported ART increased by 208,202 in the nine Nigerian states from April 2019 to September 2020. The states are Benue, Delta, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Lagos, Nasarawa, Rivers, and the Federal Capital Territory.
Through PEPFAR, CDC’s ART Surge program resulted in an eight-fold increase in the weekly number of newly identified people with HIV who started treatment. The ART Surge continued despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program included weekly collaborative data reviews to create locally adapted interventions and the use of incident command structures for program flexibility and accountability. Engagement and support from civic and local community leaders helped combat HIV stigma and eliminate other barriers to treatment.
According to the lead author of the study, who serves as the CDC Nigeria Acting HIV Program Director, Dr. Emilio Dirlikov, “This is a significant milestone in reaching HIV epidemic control in Nigeria. More people receiving treatment means much lower rates of HIV-related illnesses and deaths. Furthermore, HIV transmission is reduced to zero among those people living with HIV who have undetectable viral load.”
Dr. Dirlikov recognized the tremendous efforts of the CDC Nigeria implementing partners, healthcare workers in ART clinics across the country, as well as the Government of Nigeria at national and state levels that continued to support the move towards HIV epidemic control in Nigeria. As of December 2020, CDC, through PEPFAR, provides free HIV treatment for more than 769,000 people living with HIV throughout Nigeria.