Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, has said the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Nigeria is aimed at implementing an Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) surge programme in the country.
He 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 was aimed at helping to eliminate the payment of fees by patients.
He said the assistance in Rivers State would help to identify and provide treatment to approximately 180,000 PLHIV who have not previously received such.
Speaking at the Government House, Port Harcourt yesterday during a high profile meeting on the promotion of the health of the Rivers State people, Symington said the fund administered by the U.S. Centre for Disease Control (CDC), U.S. Department of Defense, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was to promote the health of people living with the virus.
He thanked Governor Nyesom Wike for announcing his intent to eliminate user-fees for (People Living With HIV (PLHIV). He said 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 emphasised that Wike’s pronouncement serves as an example to other states and the federal government to eliminate such user fees.
“The United States remains committed to supporting Nigeria as it works to reduce and ultimately eliminate the scourge of HIV/AIDS among its people,” Symington said.
He noted the increased funding to make anti-retroviral available would enable more people living with HIV to be healthy and productive 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.
In his remarks, Wike commended the US government for working with the state government to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the state.
Wike 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.
“I thank the United States Government for recognising the contributions of the Rivers State Government in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”
He assured the US government that his administration would continue to fund programmes that would 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 the health programmes of the Rivers State Government is yielding results as the immunisation statistics of the state has moved from 54 to 82 per cent.
Wike thanked the US government for insisting that votes count in Rivers State during the last general elections, appreciating her for ensuring that democracy survived in the country, despite the fact that it came under threat.
It would be recalled Wike recently announced that the state government would pay the user-fees for People Living with HIV in the state to access free treatment.