By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—FORMER African Presidents, under the aegis of Champions for an AIDS-Free Generation in Africa, yesterday said over 3.4 per cent of Nigerians were currently living with the dreaded HIV/AIDS.
With the percentage put forward by the ex- presidents, about 5.7 million of Nigeria’s 170 million are currently infected with the virus.
The figures were revealed by both the former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae and ex- Vice President of Uganda, Speciosa Wandira, when they paid a courtesy call on President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki.
Speaking earlier, former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, who disclosed that the group, Champions for an AIDS- free Generation was formed to harmonize their experiences as past African leaders to collectively fight the disease, said in Nigeria, those infected with HIV and AIDS stood at three percent, meaning that the figure translated to 5.7 million Nigerians.
Mogae, who stressed the need for coordinated efforts by the executive and the legislature to ensure that resources were made available to nip the disease in the bud, added that with the present HIV/ AIDS status of the country, Nigeria was next to South Africa.
He said: “As you have been told, we are a group of former presidents, including your own Obasanjo. We dealt with the scourge when it broke out and from our experience, we realized that we didn’t stabilize the situation until the top leadership was involved and by the time some of us left office, we helped stabilize the situation.
‘’We had attained some levels of success and converted what was a killer disease into a chronic one.’’
Also speaking at the event,ex- Vice President of Uganda, Speciosa Wandira, who disclosed that 3.4 per cent of Nigerians were infected with the virus, said: “The challenges on us is the well being of the people of Africa, the people of Nigeria, the people of that state where you are governor.
“As champions, we say focus, look at the data and focus, there is money in every ministry which is talking about the health of the people. When we talk about those who are infected, the bigger majority of Nigerians are free: 100 per cent minus 3.4 per cent: the bigger majority is not infected.
‘’So what do you do to protect this bigger majority? You must look at the social standards that inform HIV/AIDS. It is the poorest that are affected, it is the jobless that are affected; we advice that you focus on the women and the girls.
‘’What are those social issues that would put those girls more at risk and you put money in those areas: it could be education, it can be industry. What are those industries that are driving the economy, that will keep girls working and make them independent.
‘’That will take them away from feeling that they must have sex with somebody for them to have HIV/AIDS.”
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a member of the group, who was to lead the former Presidents on the visit to senate President Bukola Saraki was, however, absent.
Responding, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the National Assembly would continue to give required attention to the fight against HIV/AIDS in the country.
He stressed that the leadership of the National Assembly was not only concerned about the spread of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria in particular and and Africa in general, but also would continue to assist in efforts, including appropriating adequate funds, to agencies in the country devoted to tackling the pandemic.
Saraki said: “We all know the importance of the fight against HIV/AIDS. You made a point that it seems we are beginning to relax concerning the danger posed by the disease. The initiative you have taken to raise more awareness is commendable.
‘’We in the National Assembly will continue to champion advocacy and creation of awareness concerning the scourge including making necessary budgetary allocation to aid the fight.
“We did it in the case of Polio. When I was the Governor of Kwara State, we, the governors across the country saw that there was no coordination between the Federal Government and the State governments on the efforts being made to eradicate Polio.
‘’We organized a seminar where we sat with the Bill Gates Foundation, to chart a new way forward. This resulted in the resounding success we witness currently.’’ Vanguard