Nigeria’s minister of health, Osagie Ehanire, has said adequate funding and collaborations are needed to mitigate the spread of HIV across borders.
Mr Ehanire, while speaking at the 2nd high-level meeting of the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor Organisation (ALCO) in Benin Republic on Thursday, said no mandate can be achieved without adequate funding and collaborations.
He noted that an understanding of the importance of collaboration among member-states will guarantee success in the fight against the HIV epidemic.
Mr Ehanire said collaborations will also ensure the control of epidemic-prone diseases.
ALCO is an intergovernmental organisation created in 2002 by the five Heads of State of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria to serve as an intervention in the fight against HIV.
Its mandate is to conduct a regional cross-border HIV prevention and management programme and facilitate the free movement of people and goods to complement national efforts.
Various reports have shown that in Africa, long-range ground transport is a major route for the spread of HIV.
Drivers and their assistants stay overnight along their way and can spend days at border crossings waiting to clear customs and border formalities.
These stops and delays provide multiple opportunities for sexual encounters that can transmit HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). This further places truck drivers, other mobile workers, sex workers, and the people who live along the routes at increased risk for HIV.
A 1992 survey found that 33 per cent of truck drivers and 80 per cent of sex workers in Lomé, Togo, were HIV positive. It also indicated that prevalence rates among truck drivers and sex workers in large cities along the corridor were higher.
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In 2001, an estimated HIV prevalence rates among adults in the five countries linked by the corridor were; 9.7 per cent in Cote d’Ivoire, 6.0 per cent in Togo, 5.8 per cent in Nigeria, 3.6 per cent in Benin, and 3.0 per cent in Ghana.
These statistics prompted the heads of states to establish ALCO to mitigate the impact of the HIV epidemic.
Speaking at the meeting, the Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Gambo Aliyu, said about 30 million people live along West Africa’s main east-west route, which stretches from Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire to Lagos in Nigeria.
Mr Aliyu, who doubles as the chairman of ALCO, said 14 million people travel along the corridor each year, making the route essential to the region’s socio-economic development.
He said since its establishment, ALCO has leveraged the support of member countries and development partners to implement several health and transport sector programmes.
He said these interventions have contributed to improving public health response and promoting the free movement of people and goods along the Abidjan – Lagos corridor.
Mr Aliyu said the meeting was initially scheduled for 2020 “but the contingencies of human existence plunged the world into a new pandemic which made the meeting impossible at the time.”
He said the first regional high-level meeting was held in 2019.
Mr Aliyu explained that the meeting aims to enable ministers of health and transport to appraise the results of ALCO activities since its inception; propose ways of revising the initial mandate of ALCO and propose synergies between ALCO and the ECOWAS Commission in the areas of health, transport, trade, free movement of people and goods.
In his remarks, the executive secretary of ALCO, Idrissa Kone, said the initiative has helped the West African region to gain control of its HIV response.
Mr Kone said since the establishment of ALCO, a lot of impactful interventions have been made.
He, however, said the organisation faces some challenges, saying funding is a major one. He said low and delayed funding from member states is limiting the organisation from fully attaining its mandate.
He said two countries out of the five regularly pay their contributions in full. He urged other member states to adopt this so the organisation can fulfil its mandate.
In his remarks, the minister of health, Benin Republic, Benjamin Hounkpatin, said ALCO will enable the five countries to take up the initiative to strengthen the response to HIV.
Mr Hounkpatin said there is a high HIV prevalence among sex workers along the corridor.
He noted that the new era of ALCO is expected to raise recommendations for heads of states to adopt as part of the effort to end the HIV epidemic.
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