By Lizzy Okoji
Abuja – The U.S. Government, through its Embassy in Nigeria, has assured the Imo State Government of its support for the identification and provision of treatment to approximately 43,000 people living with HIV in the state.
This was made known in a statement by the Public Affairs Unit of the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday in Abuja.
According to the statement, the support will be extended to over 14,000 people already receiving such treatment through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), programme.
It stated that the assurance was given when the U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, Kathleen FitzGibbon, led a delegation on a courtesy call to Imo governor Emeka Ihedioha.
The delegation included a team from PEPFAR, and the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).,
The statement quoted FlitzGibbon as describing HIV epidemic in Imo as “critical and requiring rapid and sustained efforts to identify the victims and put them on life-saving anti-retroviral treatment”.
Such a move, she said, would not only ensure that the PLHIVs live a long, normal, productive, and healthy life, but will also help in breaking the transmission of the virus to sexual partners.
She said that the treatment programme would thereby improve the state’s health indices and enhance efforts to control the HIV epidemic.
FitzGibbon acknowledged the work that had been accomplished by the Government and other stakeholders, who partnered with PEPFAR and CDC over the years, to ensure that over 14,000 people living with HIV in the State were receiving life-saving treatment.
“Considering the over 43,000 others that need to be identified, all stakeholders must increase their efforts as part of the CDC-led PEPFAR ART surge in the State,” the diplomat said.
The Deputy Chief of Mission also emphasised the significance of Imo in the trajectory of HIV/AIDS epidemic control in Nigeria.
“Imo’s population, geographic location, diversify and status as a tourism and hospitality centre in the south-east make it an important area of focus for the delivery of HIV/AIDS services in the country,” she said.
FlitzGibbon highlighted to Ihedioha the negative effect of the payment of some user-fees, which serves as a major barrier to people living with HIV, from accessing treatment.
She called for the immediate elimination of such fees, particularly fees charged by healthcare facilities for non-essential services or those already provided by PEPFAR.
She said that the U.S. government had increased its budget for HIV control activities in Nigeria, with increased focus on identifying and putting more people on treatment through the ART.
FlitzGibbon explained that this would enable more people with HIV to live healthy, productive lives, especially now that adherence to treatment leads to the virus becoming undetectable and therefore not transmittable to sexual partner.
She requested Ihedioha to prioritise the procurement of additional HIV test kits to support the current PEPFAR initiated surge efforts.
She said that the additional test kits were necessary for identifying people living with HIV in rural communities of the state.
She emphasised that such urgent intervention would help in moving Imo towards HIV epidemic control by September 2020.
According to the statement, the highlight of the visit was the formal launch of the Imo ART Surge Programme by Gov Ihedioha, who pledged to work with the U.S. Government and other stakeholders.
Ihedioha declared the immediate elimination of the payment of “user-fee” charges points of seeking care in Imo State hospitals and other health facilities, to serve as a major incentive to people living with HIV accessing treatment.
He said that the state and local governments would come up with a mechanism of reimbursing the facilities since the fees had now been waived.
Ihedioha said that the state government had made provision in its 2020 budget for the purchase of additional HIV test kits to complement the commodities already being provided by PEPFAR.
According to the statement, the recently released data from the U.S.-supported Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey revealed that there were approximately 1.9 million people still living with the virus in Nigeria.
It quoted the survey as revealing that approximately 58,000 of the population reside in Imo, adding that they required appropriate medical treatment to live a normal, productive and healthy life.
The U.S. Government recently announced support to Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Enugu, Lagos, and Nasarawa States for the launch of an ART Surge, a programmme designed to put an additional 500,000 people living with HIV on treatment.
The 500,000 people will be in addition to the more than 800,000 people already on treatment as part of the overall PEPFAR intervention. (NAN)