|Wikileaks:||View 02ABUJA1347 at Wikileaks.org|
|Tags:||PREL PGOV TBIO SOCI KWMN NI HIV|
|Redacted:||This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 ABUJA 001347 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PREL, PGOV, TBIO, SOCI, KWMN, NI, HIV/AIDS SUBJECT: NIGERIA: FPOTUS CARTER AND BILL GATES, SR. VISIT ON HIV/AIDS -------- Summary: -------- 1. FPOTUS Jimmy Carter and Bill Gates, Sr. and staff from The Carter Center and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation paid a very successful, well-publicized March 8-10 visit to Nigeria. The purpose of the visit was to galvanize greater domestic support for the fight against HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, increase the international spotlight on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, and to help destigmatize HIV/AIDS and encourage leaders to interact with people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). Carter and Gates met with President Obasanjo, visited a Commercial Sex Worker (CSW) community, addressed Nigeria's first-ever National HIV/AIDS Summit, and met high-level officials in the Ministry of Health and the National Action Committee on Aids (NACA). President Carter also gave an inspirational HIV/AIDS focused message at the Presidential Villa Chapel on Sunday, March 10. 2. Throughout the visit, the delegation specifically asked about local solutions and how to garner more support for combating the pandemic. They commended the positive programs instituted by the Nigerian government and encouraged it to recognize and use proven prevention methods. The delegation particularly emphasized Mother-to-Child transmission (MTCT) and prevention programs, which can dramatically halve the risk of HIV transmission to new-borns. They supported widespread implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, especially among groups at high-risk of contracting or spreading HIV, such as commercial sex workers, migrant workers, truckers, and intravenous drug-users. The Carter/Gates team also encouraged all segments of society, including government, faith-based groups, businesses, and civil society organizations to engage in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The visit fulfilled the objectives of the delegation and more. End Summary. ------------------------------------ Some Facts About HIV/AIDS In Nigeria ------------------------------------ 3. Officially, 5.8% of Nigeria's population between the ages of 15-49 is HIV positive, which equals an estimated 3.5 million infected people. Projections are that over four million Nigerians will be HIV positive by the year 2005. By the end of this year, 1.3 million Nigerians will have died of AIDS since the start of the epidemic. The toll has reached the point where it is estimated that one person dies of AIDS every 2 minutes (over 700 people a day). If nothing is done, it is estimated that a further one million will die by 2005. ---------------------------- Breakfast with the President ---------------------------- 4. The delegation met privately with President Obasanjo the morning of March 9. Carter/Gates encouraged Obasanjo's continued leadership on HIV/AIDS and talked about increased funding and more effective policies, particularly focused on high-risk groups. (Comment: President Carter and President Obasanjo have been friends since Carter visited Nigeria in 1978 when Obasanjo was then military Head of State. This relationship was reportedly strained after Carter refused to certify the 1999 election as free and fair. However, the long-standing relationship appeared to be intact during the visit. End Comment.) 5. The Carter/Gates team described the Obasanjo meeting as "successful". They characterized President Obasanjo as personally engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS and the Embassy concurs with that conclusion. Obasanjo told Carter/Gates that Nigeria's biggest need is funding and stressed that everyone in his government must be involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Obasanjo's goal is to hold the infection rate at the official estimate of 5.8%, then push for an eventual reduction. After seeing posters of President Obasanjo with PLWHAs, President Carter praised Obasanjo for his personal commitment, his public display of compassion, saying Obasanjo's efforts were an important part of reducing the social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. 6. When asked about religious leadership, Obasanjo responded that some of the new generation churches and mosques are engaged, but in general faith-based institutions needed to be more active. Commercial sex work is another area where more must be done. In the area of public awareness, Obasanjo commented the GON has published pamphlets and booklets and erected billboards to reach the non-literate. The government provides condoms to all military barracks. (This policy was established after it was learned that military peacekeepers returning from Sierra Leone had an estimated 11% HIV/AIDS infection rate.) The GON has started the voluntary testing of pregnant women, but found it challenging because there are not enough counselors to reach all of those in need. Moreover, the utility of large-scale testing is of uncertain value at this point because there are few treatment options and the MTCT program is still in its infancy. The federal government is also giving money to each of the states to help establish HIV/AIDS prevention programs. (Comment: Only three of 36 governors have demonstrated a sustained personal involvement in the campaign against HIV/AIDS. End Comment.) ------------------- You're Going Where? ------------------- 7. Leaving the comfort of the President's Villa, the delegation next visited Mabushi village to meet with peer educators being trained by the NGO Women's Health Education and Development (WHED). These peer educators are themselves CSWs, trained in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, now educating other CSWs. President Carter and Mr. Gates met six women who explained how their involvement in commercial sex work began. Carter and Gates asked specific questions and received some very frank answers during this discussion. This experience proved a valuable reference point to help the delegation speak credibly about the role commercial sex work plays in spreading HIV. Carter/Gates mentioned Mabushi in every subsequent meeting, interview and speech, including Carter's interview with NBC and his speech at the HIV/AIDS Summit. U.S. media personnel also asked questions of the sex workers during the session, and scheduled follow-up interviews in the afternoon. Both the NBC Nightly News and the Today Show aired significant footage of the Mabushi visit, and highlighted the nexus between commercial sex work and HIV/AIDS. 8. At the same time a larger group of CSWs and other members of the Carter/Gates delegation met with the Minister of Health and his Deputy who accompanied Carter/Gates to Mabushi. The Minister promised to provide WHED with over two million condoms free-of-charge by the end of the year, and also agreed to help with re-education and relocation of the women. The Minister of Health confided that he was unaware of the depth of the CSW problem prior to his visit to Mabushi. According to Sylvia Matthews of the Gates Foundation, these promises alone validated the entire Africa trip. WHED also received a $20,000 grant from the Aids Prevention Initiative in Nigeria (APIN) to expand the WHED program. Based on the results of WHED's initial efforts, future funding is possible. (Comment: Poloff met with the director of WHED two weeks after the visit. She has been contacted by the Minister of Women's Affairs, and dialog on the re-education program has begun. End Comment.) ----------------------------------- Nigerian National Forum on HIV/AIDS ----------------------------------- 9. After Mabushi, the delegation attended a special HIV/AIDS forum convened by President Obasanjo entitled "HIV/AIDS in Nigeria: the Road Ahead". The purpose of this first ever HIV/AIDS summit was to mobilize greater domestic political support, particularly at the state and local levels, for the national campaign against HIV/AIDS. Along with the Carter/Gates delegation, Cabinet Ministers, governors, parliamentarians, religious and traditional leaders, PLWHAs, donors and leading HIV/AIDS experts were in attendance. Prior to the forum many National Assembly members, state governors, and other opinion leaders had shown little or no support for HIV/AIDS intervention. The Saturday Forum was meant to convince these important players to join the fight. The Forum was well attended and well publicized by the domestic media, and was characterized by all as a major success. Comment: The one disappointment was the relatively small number of governors who showed up, only about six of the total 36. This was surprising in view of the fact that the forum was a presidential initiative. End Comment. USAID/Nigeria will capitalize on the momentum created by the Forum by implementing a new program that focuses on HIV/AIDS advocacy with National Assembly members. 10. In his opening address, President Obasanjo stated the Saturday Forum was intended to bring national and international experts from various sectors together. One year after the Africa Summit on HIV/AIDS, the message was not getting down to "every nook and cranny" in the nation, he lamented. The President referred to his inaugural address when he said that human resources were a nation's most valuable resource. However, the fact that 3.6 million Nigerians were already infected with the virus and that number was growing undermined the notion of economic development. Due to denial and the inaction of the past, the HIV/AIDS epidemic now was felt at all levels of society. Denial and government inaction also meant that past HIV/AIDS programming was donor-driven and lacked adequate grass-roots participation. Obasanjo thanked donors "( for keeping at it while the Federal Government of Nigeria was in denial." He ended his address by challenging the Forum's participants to "reexamine our commitment and target a zero increase in the prevalence rate and a decline in the rate from 2003 on." 11. Two of the most noteworthy Nigerian speakers were Dr. Pat Matemilola, Chairman of the Network of People Living with AIDS in Nigeria, and Dr. Peter Odili, Governor of Rivers State. Governor Odili characterized the epidemic in his state, which has the third highest HIV prevalence rate nationally, as one fueled by the oil and gas industry. That industry has brought an influx of highly paid expatriate and Nigerian workers to the poverty-plagued state. This influx of affluent oil industry personnel attracts a comparable influx of commercial sex workers. As proof of the expansion of the problem, he said Rivers State HIV prevalence rate increased from 3.3% in 1999 to 7.7% in 2001. Unlike most states, however, Rivers has responded to the epidemic. The state has established a multi-sectoral State Action Committee on AIDS (SACA). The state government also provides a subsidy of 10,000 naira per month (approximately $85) towards anti-retroviral treatments and will soon provide free treatment for HIV/AIDS positive women. Finally, on World AIDS Day this year, Odili's government sponsored a social mobilization campaign called "the Million Man March". Dr. Matemilola's speech targeted "the waste (of funding) on research" in an environment where poor HIV- positive women cannot access Nevriapine in order to lessen mother-to-child transmission of the virus. He also chided NACA and the Ministry of Health for their on-going bureaucratic struggle for control of the national HIV/AIDS effort. Matemilola quoted the African proverb, "When two elephants fight, the grass suffers", indicating that the national HIV/AIDS program in general and people living with HIV/AIDS in particular have suffered the negative consequences of the bureaucratic tug-of-war. This statement drew a round of applause from the audience. 12. In his speech, President Carter challenged the forum participants to face their responsibility for combating HIV/AIDS. He criticized African leaders who were in denial and ignore the epidemic, while praising President Obasanjo for leading the fight against HIV/AIDS in Nigeria and in Africa. He also stated that the battle against AIDS could not be won if every government official were not actively engaged in the fight. Carter challenged the forum to overcome the social stigma of talking about HIV/AIDS and stressed the need for information and education. The former President ended his speech by saying: "My prayer is that everyone assembled here, and everyone with whom you come in contact, will be inspired to be active and enthusiastic and dedicated to the control of this terrible disease." 13. The Aids Prevention Initiative in Nigeria (APIN), a $25 million, three-year grantee of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which had previously been criticized by the GON, was showcased during the Forum. Seven of the program's twenty speakers were associated with either the Gates Foundation or with APIN, including Bill Gates, Sr., Dr. Helene Gayle, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, and Phyllis Kanki. APIN was applauded by the Minister of Health for helping prepare Nigeria's proposals to the Global Fund. Jeffrey Sachs received the greatest applause of the Forum following his suggestion to "write postcards" to the international lending institutions saying that Nigeria would no longer pay its debts. According to Sachs, "The debt is unpayable and should no longer be paid". Sachs estimated that Nigeria needs $1 billion annually to fight HIV/AIDS, contrary to the estimate of $226 million given by the NACA chairperson. He also suggested that most of the $1.5 billion Nigeria pays every year in debt servicing could be used to meet this gap once the "postcards were sent". In addition, Sachs called for greater involvement by the oil industry saying "no world class business can be in this country without joining the fight as their own economic survival is at stake." Dr. Pia Malaney, also from Harvard, posited that Nigeria's GNP is already 5% lower because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and, if not contained, the toll will reach 25% by 2025. ------------------- Goin' to the Chapel ------------------- 14. The final event of the visit was the Sunday Church service at Aso Villa Chapel. Reverend Y.A. Obaje, the Villa Chaplain, said, "We consider President Carter to be a brother. He cares about the poor. He cares about the sick. He cares about the downtrodden. We consider him one of us." Accordingly, the congregation was pleased to have President Carter in their midst and to hear his sermon: "A Faith Based Approach to HIV/AIDS." President Carter spoke directly to issues of stigma and prevention, and emphasized that it was imperative for religious leaders to discuss HIV/AIDS from the pulpit. Carter's inspirational sermon reached an audience beyond the immediate congregation. His message was broadcast live on Nigerian TV and radio, and was replayed several times during that day. Initial estimates indicate the radio broadcast reached approximately 26 million people and the TV broadcast reached an estimated 13 million. The Gates Foundation is pursuing other avenues for wide dissemination of Carter's message within the Christian media. (Note: After consultation with some Islamic leaders, the delegation decided that a different message was needed to reach the Muslim population. End Note.) ------- Comment ------- 15. There were numerous highlights of the Carter/Gates visit. First, it helped educate the delegation on the HIV/AIDS situation in Nigeria, emphasising the areas of greatest needs. Secondly, the delegation was able to generate unprecedented local attention while also focusing the international spotlight on the problem of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. Accompanying the Carter/Gates team were Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post and Lynelle Gradwell, Robert Grant, Howard Smith and Keith Miller from NBC News. HIV/AIDS received broad media coverage and attention from national, state and local officials and policy-makers that otherwise would have never occurred. Finally the delegation was able to show the GON facets of the HIV/AIDS problem about which it had previously been unaware, particularly the enormity of the CSW issue. President Obasanjo has embraced the challenge that HIV/AIDS presents, and appears ready not only to continue, but to redouble his own efforts and efforts the of his government to confront seriously the growing menace of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. From our perspective the Carter/Gates Visit was well worth the effort. End Comment. JETER
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