PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA
Nigeria would contribute up to $10 million to the Global AIDS and Health Fund proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President Olusegun Obasanjo of that country said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.
He told correspondents that despite having to battle with poverty (with an estimated 70 per cent of Nigerians living below the poverty line), as well as inadequate power and water supplies, and dilapidated, run-down infrastructure, Nigeria believed it must contribute to the struggle against the global scourge, which had taken its greatest toll on Africa.
President Obasanjo said that when he took over the reins of government -- in May 1999 -- he found that HIV/AIDS had not been given the attention it deserved, and had been treated as "a hush-hush affair". Since then, he had been spurred into action by the discovery that the infection rate among Nigerian soldiers returning from the Sierra Leone civil war was 11 per cent, more than twice the national average of 5 per cent.
Before taking office, the President said, he had led a summit on malaria and its success had encouraged him to host the African Summit on HIV/AIDS in Abuja two months ago. About 25 presidents, vice-presidents and prime ministers had attended the Abuja conference, an indication of the seriousness African leaders attached to the epidemic.
President Obasanjo said the Summit's concluding declaration prescribed what the leaders should do to stem the tide of the deadly disease. The Summit had also come up with the framework for a plan to enable each country to take relevant and realistic actions towards prevention, treatment, care of orphans, and elimination of transmission to unborn babies.
Asked how he felt about debate on the resolution before the General Assembly generating into an argument over homosexuality, the President replied: "My attitude is that it is a non-issue. We have much more important matters to discuss."
Another correspondent asked where Nigeria would find $10 million for the Global Fund in light of the country's debt burden and the need for the National Assembly to approve the budget.
The Nigerian head of State said the money would come from the same sources as funding for other government programmes. The expenditure would be proposed to the Assembly, which would deal with it in the same way as it dealt with others.
Another journalist asked what stage Nigeria's anti-AIDS campaign had reached and whether the message was getting through to the people. When could the infection rate be expected to decline and stabilize?
President Obasanjo replied that the campaign was going fairly well and that people were increasingly aware. A survey would probably be needed to determine the real situation, but the message was sinking in, according to reports.
Regarding the infection rate, the President said only an oracle could say when it would decline and stabilize. But if the campaign continued in the same way, it should be possible to stop the infection spreading, which was the first priority. Once that was done, the task of reversing the epidemic could begin, he added.
Another correspondent asked how realistic it was for African countries to increase spending on health to 15 per cent of national budgets, especially given that only a handful of developed countries were honouring their pledges of 0.7 per cent in official development assistance.
President Obasanjo replied that since health was one of the cardinal welfare issues for Nigeria and other countries, spending 15 per cent on health matters was not too high a figure to contemplate.
How much did Nigeria need annually to control HIV/AIDS and how much could it put up by itself? another journalist asked
The President said the Health Minister had just informed him that Nigeria needed about $350 per infected person for about 2.6 million people.
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