A claim that Nigeria is the world’s ‘highest producer of HIV-infected babies’ made by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, has been confirmed as accurate.
At the inauguration of a project to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Nigeria, Adewole said, “There is absolutely no reason why Nigeria should be a major producer of HIV-infected babies. We contribute about 30 per cent and our goal is elimination. We believe it’s doable.”
Reported by Sun newspaper under the headline, “Nigeria highest producer of HIV-infected babies,” the news raised eyebrows about the veracity of the claim.
According to Africa Check, a fact-checking oufit, Adewole revealed that he was referring to UNAIDS data which showed that in 2016, Nigeria had the highest share (26.9 per cent) of new mother-to-child HIV infections among the organisation’s 23 priority countries.
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“This was based on available data at the time, using the existing figures for national HIV prevalence, total population, fertility rates and the actual coverage of antenatal care and HIV services,” he said.
A strategic information advisor at UNAIDS, Gatien Ekanmian, told Africa Check that the organisation uses such data to feed into statistical modelling software.
For 2016, UNAIDS estimated that 37,000 children younger than 15 years of age were newly infected with the virus in Nigeria.
Mozambique followed with 9.6 per cent of new infections (13,000 children) and South Africa with 8.6 per cent, or 12,000 children.
UNAIDS added, “For example, the ranges around the estimates of adult HIV prevalence are smaller than those around the estimates of HIV incidence among children, which require additional data on prevalence among pregnant women and the probability of mother-to-child HIV transmission, each of which has its own additional uncertainty,” the method document states.
Though the data is for children younger than 15 and not just babies, Ekanmian said UNAIDS believed other modes of infection “caused a small fraction of the overall number of children acquiring HIV.”
A senior lecturer in the department of biological sciences at the Tai Solarin University of Education, Dr. Awoyemi Abayomi, said lack of awareness was one reason for Nigeria’s high mother-to-child HIV transmission rate.
“Nigerian women infected with HIV are not aware of the necessary precautionary measures to take before, during and after pregnancy. To correct the statistics, there is the need to tackle this issue.”
The country’s MICS survey found that in 2007, only 13 per cent of Nigerian women had been tested for HIV and knew their status. This figure fell to 11 per cent in 2012, but increased to 34.8 per cent in 2016/17.
Africa Check revealed that Nigeria is currently conducting one of the world’s biggest HIV/AIDS impact studies, which would likely provide a better picture of HIV infection in the country’s children.