By: PATRICK TITUS, Uyo
Towards the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS in Akwa Ibom state, the need for Anti-stigma Law to be enacted in the state has been advocated in order to reduce the disease related stigma.
The Deputy Chief of Missions, U. S Embassy in Nigeria, Kathleen Fitzgibbon made the advocacy when she and the Deputy Chief of Missions of (USAID), Katie Donohoe paid a courtesy visit on Governor Udom Emmanuel at his residence in Awa Iman, Onna Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State on Wednesday.
Fitzgibbon explained that having Anti-stigma Law in place in the state would assist greatly in the fight against the HIV scouge as more people will be willing to go out for test to know their status while those infected will be encouraged to access the free quality treatment available in the state.
She also told Governor Emmanuel that the visit was to inform him of the assistance given by the United States of America in the fight against HIV/AIDS and to solicit for more support from the governmrnt to ensure that the state has zero tolerance for stigmatisation of People Living with the virus, thus ensuring greater access to quality anti-retroviral drugs that would sustain life and also prevent the spread of the disease.
The US Embassy Deputy Chief of Missions, Nigeria intimated the state government about the Mega PCR Lab provided for the state by USAID and requested for personnel (Medical Lab Scientists) to assist in the running of the Center.
She however, expressed satisfaction at the efforts made the Akwa Ibom state government and implementating partners in ending the scouge, saying the strides were incredible and described HIV Situation Room in the state as a model in Nigeria.
She assured that the US government would continue to support the “Know Your Status Campaigns” in Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Benue and five other states in Nigeria in order to play a huge part in winning the war against HIV because anybody who knows his or her status is a hero in the war against AIDS.
Fitzgibbon and her entourage used the occasion of the visit to condole with Governor Emmanuel and family over the demise of their father, Pa Gabriel Nkanang and prayed for the eternal repose of his soul.
Responding, Governor Udom Emmanuel thanked them for the visit and US government and other international donor agencies for their various supports to the state.
He requested for greater collaboration with the United States Embassy, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other donor agencies undertaking HIV/AIDS intervention in Akwa Ibom state.
The Governor reiterated the need for the state apparatus to be more involved in the budgeting processes of health programmes designed to address the plight of persons living with HIV in Akwa Ibom state.
Governor Emmanuel described as huge, the amount said to have been expended in the state during the past ten years on the HIV/AIDS treatment by USAID and stated the need for stronger collaboration to ensure targeted intervention to avoid duplication of efforts and dissipation of resources.
Mr Emmanuel noted that most of the rural areas may not be aware of enormity of the HIV situation in the state and the efforts of the state government and all the donor agencies, hence the need to synergize efforts especially in the financial planning and implementation of the HIV intervention efforts in the state.
He pledged the state government’s support in undertaking enlightenment campaigns to reduce HIV related stigma and provision of other resources (including rapid test kits) provided synergy and accountability is assured in the handling of funding provided by the U S Government.
The Governor made a case for the reconsideration of the recent visa ban for Akwa Ibom citizens by the Government of United States, stressing that many have genuine businesses to transact in the United States.
Present during the visit were the Secretary to the State Government, Mr Emmanuel Ekuwem, Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dominic Ukpong, Vice Chancellor University of Uyo, Prof Enefiok Essien S.A.N, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Multilateral & Donor Agencies, Mr Nana Udom and management of Agencies in the state charged with the responsibility of partnering with the State Government.
Others were; Dr. Nkereuwem Etok – Program Manager, Akwa Ibom State Agency for the Control of AIDS (AKSACA); Moses Katbi, Team Lead, Priority population/community linkages – USAID Nigeria; Dolapo Ogundehin, Team Lead, Continuum of Treatment – USAID Nigeria; Chris Obanubi and Akwa Ibom State ART Surge lead- USAID Nigeria; Dr. Salma Anas Kolo.
Others are, Country Director; Dr Kunle Kakanfo, State Director, Surge Implementation; Helen Mfon-Obong Idiong – State Program Officer; Edidong Sambo – SBCC Specialist; Ngozi Ezema – Program Management, Associate Director;Dr. Kolawole Olatunbosun – State lead, JHIPHEGO; Dr Idayat Uthman – UNAIDS; Paul Umoh and Deputy Chief of Party, Heartland Alliance; Dr. Ngozi Noel-Ogamba.
Also included are, Heartland Alliance; Tarya Fom, Data for Implementation; Dr. Michael Ejeh, Center for Clinical Care and Research Nigeria (CCCRN); Iniobong Enyenihi, Network of People Living with HIV in Nigeria (NEPWHAN) andElizabeth Sampson Udoh, ASHWAN – Association of Women Living with HIV in Nigeria