US joins forces with Abia to fight HIV/AIDS

Chargé d’Affaires US embassy, Kathleen FitzGibbon

The United States (US) Government has launched a programme that would enable Abia State Government to bridge the treatment gap for 38,000 persons living with HIV/AIDs who are currently not captured within the treatment zone.

The intervention programme marked the re-engagement of the U.S with Abia to assist the state through the U.S President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and support renewed efforts towards HIV epidemic control.

In implementing the programme the U.S. would work with Abia Stae Government and other stakeholders to close the HIV treatment gap by identifying and initiating treatment for an additional 38,000 people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Abia State within the next two years.

Speaking at a stakeholders engagement forum in Umuahia, the U.S Embassy Charge d’Affaires (CDA), Kathleen FitzGibbon, said that “nobody needs to die from HIV/AIDS” given the advancement in technology and medical science, assuring that the U.S would assist Abia to build the capacity to bridge the treatment gap.” The U.S. delegation comprised of the PEPFAR Coordinator, Mr Mark Giambrone; U.S. Centres 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.

The team was joined by the Director-General of Nigeria’s National Agency for the Control of AIDS (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).

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

The Governor of Abia State, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, said that the alarming figure of 38,000 PLHIV not receiving treatment in Abia was majorly concentrated at the border communities.

Ikpeazu, who was represented at the stakeholders’ engagement by his Deputy Governor of Abia State, Mr Ude Oko Chukwu, lamented that the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Abia was engendered by the geographical location that made it share boundaries with several states.

Abia, which shared borders with seven states including Imo, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Anambra, Rivers, Enugu and Ebonyi, ranked sixth in HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Nigeria.

The governor pledged that Abia would “do everything” to collaborate with the U.S to ensure that treatment would get to the people outside the treatment zone.

In his remarks the Director-General of NACA, Dr Aliyu Gambo challenged Abia State to use the ingenuity of its citizens and come up with the cure for AIDS.

The Catholic Bishop of Umuahia, Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, who was represented by the Auxiliary Bishop, Most Rev. Michael Kalu Ukpong, lauded the U.S for choosing Catholic Caritas Foundation to implement the programme.

“The Catholic Diocese of Umuahia is promising to do more in educating and conscientising the public to see HIV/AIDS patients as people who need help and support and not as people stigmatised and as such to be avoided or abandoned,” he said.

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