Ten activists who have served for many years in the HIV Civil Society space in Nigeria met April 12th in Ibadan, Oyo state, to discuss the status of the field, looking at the journey so far, the successes, current challenges and especially how antiretroviral therapy access for people living with HIV in Nigeria can be improved.
The meeting was hosted by the Oyo State Agency for the Control of AIDS.
Present at the face-to-face meeting were the Chief host, Mr Oba Oladapo, and other HIV activists like Ibrahim Umoru, Alban Anonyuo, Lawrence Ukponahiunsi, Walter Ugwuocha and Morenike Folayan. Conveners who were not present physically were Victor Omosehin, Olayide Akanni and Maureen Onyia.
Participants at the meeting acknowledged that while the HIV response in Nigeria had matured, the Civil Society response is yet to mature. This is against the background that the Nigeria HIV response in Nigeria was initiated by CSO. Activists and advocates stepped up into the HIV response space when the government was inactive.
In 2005 when antiretroviral therapy was accessible in the country, the subsidized cost of access of N1000 was large enough to prevent access and cause people to fail their treatment.
In 2006, advocates mounted significant pressure on the government. This led to the government providing free treatment access to 250,000 Nigerians at no cost. The impact of the Civil Society on the HIV response in Nigeria was openly acknowledged by late Professor Babatunde Osotimehin during a presentation he made at the 2006 meeting of the International AIDS Society (IAS).
Sadly, fees are now back and people are starting to miss treatment and fail therapy once again because of the barriers caused by user fees.
While there have been few rumbles and public discussions about the negative impact of the user fees on the quality of life of people living with HIV, no significant action has been taken by the collective body of Civil Society in Nigeria.
The reason is not far-fetched!
The absence of a united Civil Society front has been the bane of the inaction.
Most Civil Society Organisations are now invested in providing health-care services funded by the same organizations that have instituted user fees. They are therefore conflicted and cannot speak up against their funders.
Even Civil Society Networks have become programme implementers.
There is no dedicated Civil Society playing the watchdog role!
During the engaging discussion, Umoru noted: “There is a science of HIV and there is a politics of HIV. We as the Civil Society need to contend with the politics of HIV to ensure the community benefits from investments. As watchdogs we ensure accountability on the parts of all agencies for the HIV response.”
The activists present at the meeting therefore chose to organize themselves as watchdogs for the Civil Society space in Nigeria with the plan to meet periodically to evaluate the actions of Civil Society Organisations in the HIV response space in Nigeria with the aim of ensuring integrity and accountability.
“We as civil society members need to be accountable to ourselves. Only then can we legitimately ask others to be accountable to us,” added Ibrahim Umoru.
He said this when he acknowledged that the annual Civil Society Accountability Forum organized by the Civil Society in Nigeria is a laudable programme.
However, it was unanimously agreed that for any impact to be made for the 2018 edition, it must be ensured that Civil Society Networks are themselves found accountable to the national response.
Moving forward, the Group agreed to issue out statements in the following weeks. It also agreed to reconvene in July and take stock of actions taken so far especially as it concerns the elimination of user fees for antiretroviral therapy access for people living with HIV in Nigeria.