The U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires (CDA), Kathleen FitzGibbon, has said that Abia has the sixth highest HIV prevalence rate in the country with an estimated 58,341 cases.
Ms FitzGibbon said this in Umuahia on Tuesday, at a stakeholder meeting organised by CDA, in collaboration with Catholic Caritas Foundation and the Abia State Government.
The CDA, who led a Mission Nigeria inter-agency team to Abia, said the meeting also marked “the re-engagement of U.S. assistance to the state, through its President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” adding that the U.S. government will support renewed efforts towards HIV epidemic control in Abia.
“The U.S. will work with the state government and other stakeholders to close the HIV treatment gap. We shall identify and initiate treatment for additional 37,000 People Living with HIV (PLHIV) in Abia within the next two years.
“The U.S. is looking to Abia to lead and demonstrate a model of sustainable state ownership of the HIV response. This will help to strengthen the partnership between the U.S and Abia,” Ms FitzGibbon said.
She further spoke about the new U.S. approach to supporting the state’s expanded HIV programme, urging stakeholders to play an active role that would help to ensure that all PLHIV are identified and placed on life-saving treatment.
Ms FitzGibbon expressed her delight that “HIV was no longer a death sentence as was the case 20 years ago”.
She said that no fewer than 1.6 million Nigerians were placed on treatment, adding: “If you start getting treatment, you will not die.”
The U.S official decried the stigmatisation of PLHIV, describing it as a major challenge to the battle against HIV in the country, especially given the fact that stigmatisation was preventing many PLHIV from making themselves available for treatment.
Also speaking, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu attributed the high prevalence of HIV in Abia to the fact that the state shared boundaries with seven states that reportedly had high prevalence rates.
Represented by the Deputy Governor, Oko Chukwu, the governor said his administration had initiated proactive measures to check cross border transmission of the disease.
The Director-General, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Aliyu Gambo, called on Aba entrepreneurs to prove their mettle by venturing into the manufacture of HIV vaccines.
“Aba is known all over the world for its ingenuity in the production of locally made goods. I, therefore, charge the people to use their entrepreneurial spirit to produce HIV vaccines for Nigeria,” Mr Gambo said.
Also, the Catholic Bishop of Umuahia Diocese, Lucius Ugorji, represented by the Auxilliary Bishop, Michael Ukpong, on behalf of the Catholic Caritas Foundation, thanked the U.S. for choosing the organisation to implement its HIV programme in the country.
“The Catholic Diocese of Umuahia is promising to do more in educating and conscientising the public to see PLHIV as people who need help and support, not to be stigmatised, avoided or abandoned,” Mr Ugorji said.
The U.S. delegation comprised PEPFAR Coordinator, Mark Giambrone, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Country Director, Mary Boyd, U.S. Agency for International Development, HIV/TB Office Director, Rachel Goldstein, and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Country Director, Laura Chittenden.
Newsmen reported that the meeting was attended by representatives of some health professionals, religious and traditional rulers, non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations.