The history of research collaboration in Nigeria by IHV dates back to 1990 when IHV co-founder Dr. Blattner undertook the first survey of HIV infection among commercial sex workers in Lagos, Nigeria that documented an HIV-1 infection rate of 12.3% in this high risk group at a time when population rates were less than 1%, a harbinger of the epidemic to follow. During that same early 1990’s period, then post-doctoral Dr. Alash’le Abimiku, Co-Principal Investigator of the UM-IHV AITRP, joined the NCI Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology and published the first molecular characterization of HIV subtype G virus in Nigeria. With funding from the Italian/Swiss Foundation, Dr. Abimiku, in collaboration with IHV Director Dr. Gallo, set up the International Center for Scientific Culture-World Laboratory (ICSC-WL) which became the Plateau State Human Virology Research Center (PLASVIREC), a core laboratory unit of IHV-Nigeria directly engaged in research training for the UM-IHV-AITRP. Subsequently Dr. Abimiku received funding from the World AIDS Foundation for research training of clinical investigators involved in pioneering access to HIV testing, the Gates Foundation through the Harvard AIDS Prevention Initiative Nigeria (APIN), and the US military targeting development of surveillance capacity to identify high-risk cohorts for studies of HIV incidence forming the vanguard for development of IHV-Nigeria. Many of our Fogarty scholars have trained with her in Nigeria and her scientific leadership in developing research capacity in Nigeria is characterized in Science as a “Foot in Each Country,” as she helps build the capacity to answer the pervasive health care challenges of the HIV pandemic in Nigeria.
Nigeria, with a population of 141 million (2005 census) is the most populous nation in sub-Saharan Africa and with an estimated 2.6 million infected, recently passed India (2.4 million) as number 2 after South Africa (5.7 million) in HIV/AIDS burden. The rise of HIV in Nigeria emerged during a 30-year period when a once functional public health structure was decimated by a series of corrupt military dictatorships that also devolved its highly regarded university system. The national HIV prevalence rate among adults (ages 15-49) is 3.1 percent based on prevalence surveys of antenatal women. In a CDC-funded study conducted by UM-IHV AITRP trainees and IHV-Nigeria, prevalence among most-at-risk populations ranged from 8.1% in motorcycle taxi drivers to 52.9% among commercial sex workers. At the end of 2007, 2.6 million adults and children are living with HIV, and 170,000 are estimated to have died during the year. There are estimated to be over 1.2 million AIDS orphans.