The leadership of the Oyo State Agency for the Control of AIDS is making impressive strides in the state’s HIV and AIDS response. The institution of user fees by many hospitals and facilities providing antiretroviral drugs for use by people living with HIV has been a bane of contention for Civil Society in Nigeria.
The report of the PEPFAR COP17 highlights the potential impact of this user fees – many people living with HIV default in their follow up. The sad stories of people dying because of their inability to access treatment because of the barrier user fees pose is saddening.
The wife of the Executive Governor of Oyo State, Mrs Florence Ajumobi is set to make a change. She leads the Oyo State Agency for the Control of AIDS. She is committed to giving back to the society that nurtured her. In an effort to eliminate user fees for people living with HIV in Oyo State, the State Agency for the Control of AIDS has committed to providing all the consumable materials needed for the care of persons living with HIV in all facilities in the State.
As at the end of March, the list of materials needed by all facilities have been compiled. ‘These materials will be provided as soon as the state budget is released’ says the Executive Secretary, Mr Oba Oladapo, an HIV activist openly living with HIV.
Oyo State is also exceptional in another way – having a person opening living with HIV occupy the leadership of the State Agency for the Control of AIDS is exceptional. This may have made for the success recorded in the State. This is truly what one of the UNAIDS principles is truly about – greater involvement of people living with HIV with the national HIV response.
Mr Oladapo narrated one of their most successful stories. In 2017, the annual budget for the State Agency for the Control of AIDS was 92 million. They were only able to appropriate 50% of this by the end of the year. In 2018, their budget was increased to N315 million. When he went to the State House of Assembly to defend the budget, discussing the real needs of the people, the budget was increased to N366 million. The Agency is already set to appropriate 100% of the funds.
The State has furnished the office of the Network of People living with HIV, planning to build the Civil Society House for the State, and also establishing an incubation centre for young and upcoming civil society in the State. This is exception in view of the fact that the CISHAN, the national umbrella organization for civil society working in the field of HIV in Nigeria just lost its accommodation because it could not pay its annual dues for the last two years.
For civil society to function effectively, it needs to be funded by the national government. Currently, support for civil society organizations in Nigeria is not included in the national budget like is done in other countries around the world. For this reason, many civil society organizations seek for grants and have diverted to providing health care services rather than focusing on their primary roles.
In the coming months, the impact of these actions by the Oyo State Agency for the Control of AIDS shall be assessed. Hopefully, the state shall be the model for other states to emulate. Now we know user fees can be abolished if the government has the will to respond.