The US Deputy Chief of Mission, Kathleen Fitzgibbon on Thursday, revealed that the government of her home country has spent over $5.4 to support Nigeria in the fight against HIV in the last 15 years through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Fitzgibbon said PEPFAR is the largest foreign assisted programme against any disease in the world.
She spoke in Asaba at the launch of the Antiritroviral Therapy (ART) Surge Response by the Delta State government.
FitzGibbon expressed concern over the rate of new infections, adding that many persons living with HIV are afraid of stigmatisation.
She said Delta State is aiming at 70 percent viral suppression rate target of September 2020, and urged stakeholders to see people living with HIV who have suppressed their viral load as heroes.
“I ask that each of us see people living with HIV who have suppressed their viral loads as heroes. They are the franchise players in stopping new infections.
“They should be lauded for their courage in coming forward despite possible stigmatisation. They should be applauded for staying on treatment and should be recognised for making the disease untransmitable and stopping the disease in its tracks,” she said.
FitzGibbon also pledged the U.S. Government’s support to Delta State especially in the identification and provision of treatment to approximately 63,000 people living with HIV, in addition to the over 17,500 people already receiving such treatment through the PEPFAR programme in the state.
She also requested that Governor Okowa prioritize the procurement of additional HIV test kits to support the current PEPFAR initiated surge efforts. The additional test kits are necessary for identifying PLHIV in various communities in Delta and help in moving the state towards HIV epidemic control by September 2020.
Launching the ART Surge, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa restated his commitment to the fight against HIV, and announced the approval of N100 million for the course.
Okowa pledged to work with the state legislature to accelerate the adoption of the national anti-stigma and discrimination law for enforcement in the state.
The governor promised to add to the existing 53 health care centers across the state, to fill in existing gaps in HIV treatment, warning health personnel to desist from charging fees for the treatment of HIV patients.
“Having identified gaps in the area of treatment and pediatric management of HIV/AIDS, I urge all partners to intensify commitments in these areas. HIV Testing Services – HTS – should be given top priority, particularly in our communities, which is considered critical to the overall HIV/AIDS response and to bring HIVAIDS services closer to the populace.
“Let me once again assure all of you of my administration’s readiness to creating an enabling environment and support for all HIV/AIDS programmes. I am taking up the fight against HIV/AIDS as one of my administration’s top priorities.
“The Delta State Government has been offering free maternal services for all pregnant women and under five children in the State through its equity plan in the Delta State health contributory scheme, which includes free HIV test and counseling,” he stated.
Okowa added that funds were being made available through the State Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS “for the procurement of HIV test kits and consumables to fill in emerging gaps in some of our facilities and support to partners.
“Furthermore, the Delta State Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS, which is very critical in all HIV/AIDS matters, has been repositioned to effectively coordinate all HIV/AIDS activities in the state.”
He thanked donor agencies for their contributions, and urged other stakeholders to re-double their efforts in the fight against the scourge.