1998 – 2002: Paving the way for a movement – During this period, there was a lot of concerted efforts on the African continent with respect to HIV vaccine research and development. The AAVP had a number of Nigerians actively involved in its evolution. Coincidentally, during this same period, there was a saga in the country with respect to a local production of an untested HIV Vaccine product by Dr Abalaka which was purported to be curative. The public claims of this medically trained doctor during a period of high level of stigma of PLWHA and poor accessibility to ART services resulted in a large number of persons accessing this unproven untested purportedly curative vaccine. The national government, equally got interested in the product and paid for the treatment of a number of Nigerians with the product manufacturer.
In the light of this and in a bid to address the situation, the national government through the FMOH and the National Action Committee on AIDS and with support from the WHO, decided to facilitate the development of the National HIV Vaccine Plan; a brainchild of the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD). The draft plan went through 3 phases of review over 4 years (1999 – 2003). Over this period, a number of interested individuals had started agitating on the cost and implications for the country on delaying the implementation of the plan – interest of partners would wane and Nigeria and Nigerians would loss out on the possibly gains of participating in HIV vaccine trials. Actions need be taken fast and only the civil society can best facilitate this.
During this period, a number of individuals who had participated in the National HIV Vaccine Development Plan had also attended the Microbicide conference held in New York (2000) and Belgium (2002). It was equally critical to them that Nigerians need to become more active and visible in the Microbicide research and development efforts in view of its past contributing efforts to the global drive (it facilitated an acceptability study on N9 as well as a phase I study on Cellulose Sulphate).
These individuals started sharing ideas and concerns during period they. Action needs to be taken; the government needs to be taken to task; Nigerians need to be planned for. No more time to waste…..
2003: NHVMAG crystallizes – In May 2003, Dr Morenike Ukpong shared the vision for the initiation of an Advocacy Group which can move continue to press for the implementation of the HIV Vaccine Plan with Mr Omololu Falobi. He agreed on the need for this. However, he noted the need to include microbicide advocacy on the agenda as similar mechanisms would be needed to move the two agenda.
Over the next two months, the duo drew up the concept paper of the organisation and shared that with other committed advocates for the agenda. This includes Dr Bode-Law Faleyimu who heads the Ethics, Law and Human Rights Committee, Dr Ernest Ekong who heads the Resource mobilisation Committee and Ms Mana Akaiku to head the Public Communication Committee. The idea and concept of the organisation was shared with members of the National HIV Vaccine Development Working Group during the final review meeting for the endorsement of the National HIV Vaccine Development Plan in 2003 which held at the Crystal Hotel, Abuja. The group, with advice from Tim Tucker from SAAVI, then adopted NHVMAS as the community mobilisation arm of the vaccine plan.
NHVMAS then had to get operational. A steering committee, consisting of the heads of the five constituted working committees and the two co-coordinators was then constituted. Its five constituted committees had to be headed by reputable activists who shared in the vision. Dr Simon Agwale and Ms Funmi Doherty were then invited to join the Steering Committee to head the Scientific and Community Mobiliation and Public Communication Committees. Ms Mana Akaiku noted that her routine work schedule would make commitment to the works of the organisation difficult. She resigned. Ms Rolake Nwagwu was then invited to head the Public Communications Committee. Dr Bode-Law Faleyimu also noted the need to have someone to assist with the handling of the Ethics, Law and Human Rights Committee. Prof Kayode Dada was then invited to co-Chair the Committee with him.
In the July 2003, a public call was made on the Nigeria eforum for interested individuals and organisations to share in the vision of NHVMAS. A Southwestern zonal sentitisation and awareness creation programme was then held at the Women Development Centre, Agege, Lagos. The 34 individuals and organisations present at that programme formed the first core of advocates engaged in NHVMAS’s programme. This number has since grown to 142 as at May 2006
2004 – 2005: Growing a vision – The commitment and self sacrifice of the members of the coalition had helped move the vision forward. Members seized all available opportunity to educate communities and individuals about New HIV Prevention Technology research and development efforts within and outside the country.
Media men were brought on board the coalition early through facilitated media round table discussions and media presentations. The HIV/AIDS NGO workers were actively engaged by promoting the integration of New HIV Prevention Technology (NPT) messaging into ongoing HIV/AIDS activities. Members of Institutional Review Boards and the National Food and Drugs Regulatory Agency in the country were trained on the ethics of NPT research. Members of the coalition were continually kept updated about national, regional and global activities on New HIV Prevention Technology research and development through its listsserv and its newsletter. Self education on the ethics of NPT and community mobilisation strategies was facilitated through the development of self educational training kits. Group trainings could also be facilitated through the use of a developed training manual. Fact sheets were produced to facilitate public enlightenment, understanding and support for the national focused efforts. Policy makers were engaged through structured advocacy efforts. The creation of an NPT research desk within the National Action Committee on AIDS office and the inclusion of NPT issues in the 2005 – 2009 national HIV/AIDS strategic document was also a testimony to what grassroot movement can achieve.
The researchers were equally not left out. Efforts were made at complimenting the efforts of Nigerian researchers undertaking NPT research through facilitated public support and understanding of the research process. Effective community advocates-researcher interface was created through many forums. Such forum included the first national Advocates meeting which held in May 2004 with funding support of the Global Campaign for Microbicide.
Other efforts towards ensuring facilitating the country’s international visibility with respect to NPT research and development drives include its facilitation and participation in regional and international programmes. Its networking with regional and international partners like the African Microbicide Advocacy Group (AMAG), Global Campaign for Microbicide (GCM), American Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), and the International Partnership for Microbicide (IPM).
The growth of the organisation during this period is attributable to the commitment of all its members to push the NHVMAS agenda forward despite limited financial resources. The integrity of our human resources is a great asset. The transparent management of the affairs of the coalition also allowed for the building of trust and bond for the realisation of a vision. The group members related in the contest of existing humans and not just about achieving goals and objectives. And the work continued…
2006 to 2008: Expanding the vision……. NHVMAS realises it walks a fine line – striving to ensure informed debates and advocacy efforts by its members through capacity building, maintaining a structure flexible enough to sustain highly diverse collaborations with NGOs and advocacy networks across the diverse groups and culture within the country and yet still addressing pressing national concerns through activism, advocacy and strategic networking.
In 2006, the Steering Committee met to redefine its structure to enable it address its vision as defined for the next three years in its strategic plan: a plan that focuses on ensuring Nigeria can undertake NPT research efforts independently and ensuring its nationals have eventual access to the final products within reasonable time.
By the end of 2008, NHVMAS would continue as a strong local and international player in the field of NPT advocacy – faciltating global, regional and local efforts at ensuring prompt future access to NPT.
2009 to 2011: Establishing a vision: As NHVMAS developed its strategic plan, it realised it had created a nitche for itself. It had become recognised in the national and regional scene as a player in building capacity to conduct ethics training. In view of this, NHVMAS used the next three years to consolidate its capacity to play this role adequately. With extensive financial support from Sidaction, France, NHVMAS then went on to develop resource materials in the field. Its frontline role in investing in building the capacity of laypersons on ethics committees to address community needs during protocol review has since expanded: Laypersons are now recognised as critical stakeholders in the research enterprise, a subset of the community that can facilitate appropriate community engagement in research. In the same vein, NHVMAS continues to address its community responsibility – building the capacity of grassroot community to engage with HIV prevention research specifically and research in general. Its research literacy programme continues to grow with its primary target audience being Key populations often engaged in HIV prevention research. As it moves into 2012, NHVMAS plans to expand its current vision by linking up its programme with the national sexual and reproductive health agenda.