By Amaechi Okonkwo, Port Harcourt
This was as the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Stuart Symington, said that the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) administered by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), U.S. Department of Defense, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was implementing an Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) surge program in Rivers state to identify and provide treatment to approximately 180,000 PLHIV who had not previously received such.
The two leaders spoke in Port Harcourt Tuesday during a high-profile meeting on the promotion of the health of Rivers people.
The governor said: “I want to thank the government of the United States for working with the Rivers state government to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS.
Wike assured the United states government that his administration will continue to fund programmes that will reduce the prevalence of the healthcare challenge.
“We will continue to work for the reduction of HIV/AIDS in the state. We are glad that we are partners with the US government. For us, health is key. Education is key. With education, you can talk to people on measures to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“At present, with the support of the United states government, we are running 115 sites to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS,” he said.
He said that the health programmes of the Rivers state government is yielding results as the immunisation statistics of the state has moved from 54 percent to 82 percent.
Speaking further, Wike thanked the United States government for insisting that votes count in Rivers state during the last general elections.
He said that the United States government ensured that democracy survived in the country, despite the fact that it came under threat.
In his remarks, Symington said the U.S. government’s $75 million budget increase for HIV control activities in Nigeria, with about $25 million allocated for the ART surge activities.
The ambassador thanked Governor Wike for announcing his intent to eliminate user-fees for PLHIV. The U.S. delegation was in Rivers state to advocate for elimination of user-fees for all people living with HIV, antenatal care charges for pregnant women living with the virus, and other barriers hindering PLHIV from accessing health services. The Ambassador emphasized Governor Wike’s pronouncement serves as an example to other states and the federal government to eliminate such user fees. On August 19, Ambassador Symington paid a similar visit to Akwa Ibom state governor Udom Emmanuel.
“The United States remains committed to supporting Nigeria as it works to reduce and ultimately eliminate the scourge of HIV/AIDS among its people,” Ambassador Symington said.
He noted the increased funding to make anti-retroviral available would enable more people living with HIV to lead healthy, productive lives until the day a cure for the virus is found.
The ambassador noted that disbursement of the additional PEPFAR HIV funds are contingent upon Nigerian federal and state governments reducing or eliminating financial barriers to PLHIV access to services, in particular fees charged by healthcare facilities for non-essential services or those already provided by PEPFAR.
Pictures: Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike (r) and the United States ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Stuart Symington at the Government House Port Harcourt on Tuesday during a high profile meeting on the promotion of the health of Rivers people.