U.S Government to treat 37, 000 people living with HIV in Abia

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[BONIFACE OKORO, Umuahia ]

United States Government has pledged to identify and initiate treatment for 37,000 people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Abia State within the next two years in demonstration of its resolve to help in the control of the disease in the state.

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U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires (CDA), Kathleen FitzGibbon, made the pledge when she led a Mission of the Nigeria inter-agency team to Abia State to mark the re-engagement of U.S. assistance to the State through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and support renewed efforts towards HIV epidemic control. 

“The U.S. will work with the State government and other stakeholders to close the HIV treatment gap by identifying and initiating treatment for an additional 37,000 people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Abia State within the next two years,” she said during a visit on Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, at Government House Umuahia, Tuesday.

Abia is ranked as the state with the sixth highest HIV prevalence in the country, with an estimated 58,341 PLHIV.  

FitzGibbon announced that the U.S. partnership with Abia to control HIV commenced on October 1, 2021, when she said the PEPFAR, through U.S. CDC, “marked its initiation of direct service delivery support in Abia State to enable the State to achieve HIV epidemic control by providing lifesaving treatment to its people.”

The diplomat further explained that PEPFAR and CDC’s support would be provided through the implementing partner, Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN).

“They will focus on quality HIV clinical and program management skill-building to ensure service delivery transition to the state government, while simultaneously accelerating the initiation of PLHIV on lifesaving anti-retroviral therapy. 

In doing this, the CDA said “the U.S. is looking to Abia State to lead and demonstrate a model of sustainable state ownership of the HIV response,” and added that, “this will help to strengthen the partnership between the United States and Abia State.” 

The Oracle Today gathered that PEPFAR supports HIV treatment for over 80 per cent of the 1.8 million PLHIV Nigerians and works with state and federal government agencies to build health systems to achieve and sustain HIV epidemic control. 

Fitz Gibbon expressed the U.S. government’s commitment to Abia State in its efforts to achieve HIV epidemic control and encouraged the Governor to build on his commitment to the health care system in Abia state, including prioritizing recruitment of healthcare workers to help sustain the expanded HIV programme and other critical public health services.

In addition, she called for an increased health budget allocation and release of funds to ensure that the efforts to have additional patients on treatment succeeded.

In a separate meeting with stakeholders, the delegation briefed participants of the new approach to supporting Abia’s expanded HIV program and called on all stakeholders to actively play roles that ensure all PLHIV were identified and placed on lifesaving treatment. 

Meanwhile, Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, has promised to pool resources together and work with the US Mission and National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS (NACA), towards mounting aggressive advocacy for er adication of HIV/AIDS in the State.

Speaking when he received a delegation led by the US Deputy Chief of Mission, Mrs Kathleen FitzGibbon, at Government House, Umuahia, Ikpeazu promised to deploy the same zeal he has brought to the health sector of the State to the efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.

The Governor declared that the State must ramp up HIV test as well as other curative interventions that would lead to eradication of the scourge.

He added that the State would mobilize all the necessary platforms in order to beat the 18 months deadline given by the team as target to bring HIV/AIDS under control.

Governor Ikpeazu used the forum to call on the US Deputy Chief of Mission to continue to support Abia in its quest to win the war against HIV/AIDS.

While highlighting some of his innovative interventions in the health sector, including the tele-health initiative, geriatric outreach and mother & child hospital, the Governor noted that these interventions account for the minimal cases of Covid-19 infections in the state.

Mrs. FitzGibbon, however, urged the state government to mount advocacy aimed at eliminating stigma against carriers, increase HIV awareness coverage and encourage people with the infection to willingly come out to access treatment.

Also speaking, the Director General, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Dr Aliyu Gambo, said that Abia has remained one of the strategic partners of the federal government in the fight against HIV/AIDS, as it has been active in the payment of its counterpart funding.

He thanked the Governor for sustaining support for the program, including providing office space for NACA and assured that joining hands with the US and Abia State governments, they would achieve the control of the epidemic in the State.

The U.S. delegation was comprised of PEPFAR Coordinator, Mark Giambrone; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Country Director, Dr. Mary Boyd; U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) HIV/TB Office Director, Rachel Goldstein; and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) Country Director, Dr. Laura Chittenden. 

They were joined by the Director-General of NACA, Dr. Aliyu Gambo, and the Coordinator of the National AIDS, Sexually Transmitted Infections Control and Hepatitis Program (NASCP), Dr. Akudo Ikpeazu, as well as the representative of Nigerian Ministry of Defense, Health Implementation Program, Brig. Gen. NAE Okeji (Rtd).

Also, the Deputy Governor, Sir Ude Oko Chukwu, Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr Chris Ezem, Head of Service, Sir Onyii Wamah, the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Professor ACB Agbazuere, Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, and his Health counterpart, Dr Joe Osuji, Deputy Chief of Staff (Office of the Deputy Governor), Sir Don Ubani, among other government functionaries, were present during the visit.

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