U.S. Ambassador storms Owerri, assures Imo state govt of support

Photo: Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State with the Acting United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms. Kathleen Fitzgibbon when the latter paid a working visit to Imo State Governor in Owerri…Thursday.

The Acting Ambassador of the United States of America to Nigeria, Ms. Kathlean Fitzgibbon has assured Governor Hope Uzodimma of her government’s preparedness to continue to partner and support Imo State on policies that enhance the wellbeing and good health of the citizenry.

The U.S. therefore encourages Governor Uzodimma to build upon the huge successes his administration has recorded in the health sector, particularly in the area of fight against HIV/AIDS as well as to continue to adopt strategies that increase access to lifesaving services.

Ms. Fitzgibbon dropped the hints when she led a delegation from her office on a courtesy call on the Imo State Governor at the Government House, Owerri during the week.

Speaking at the New Executive Chambers, she expressed her pleasure on the visit and congratulated Imo State on the progress made in its effort to reach HIV/AIDS epidemic control.

Highlighting the strategic partnership between the U.S. government, national HIV policy and implementation agencies, and Imo State as a key component of the drive to achieve national HIV epidemic control, Ms. Fitzgibbon said the U.S. Government inter-agency PEPFAR team is engaging with Imo “as we continue to chart a new course for a sustainable HIV programme in the State.”

Her words: “The Imo State Government support is critical to ensuring that we collectively move the State towards ending the HIV epidemic.

“U.S. support to Imo State is being provided through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the implementing partner, the Catholic Caritas Foundation of Nigeria (CCFN). They are working hand-in-hand to expand HIV clinical services and enhance programme management.

“The joint goal is to accelerate the initiation of people living with HIV (PLHIV) on lifesaving anti-retroviral therapy while simultaneously building capacity for the healthcare workforce.

“The Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) results prioritized seven states based on unmet treatment needs and coverage. Imo was classified as a State with low saturation and high unmet need.

“Using NAIIS data, we can target areas and populations where we are likely to find HIV-positive individuals, making the programme more efficient.

“From 2019 to 2021, Imo State has made tremendous progress, with over 36,000 people living with HIV on treatment in 2021 versus 13,000 in 2019, moving the State from 20 per cent treatment coverage to 57 per cent.

“Viral load coverage has also improved from 56 per cent to 74 per cent. Viral load suppression had also moved to 91 per cent in 2021 from 75 per cent in 2019.

“The U.S. Government is proud to be reaching about 1.6 million Nigerians with lifesaving HIV care and treatment. These numbers demonstrate what can be achieved by collaboratively working with states, federal government agencies, and other partners to build health systems to achieve and sustain HIV epidemic control.”

Fitzgibbon encouraged Governor Uzodimma “to build on his commitment to the health care system, including prioritizing healthcare workers to help sustain the expanded HIV programme and other critical public health services.”

She emphasized the need to address stigma and discrimination so that more people can come out and get tested and “called on all stakeholders to play an active role in finding PLHIV and linking and maintaining them on lifesaving treatment through this renewed effort.”

Responding, Governor Uzodimma passionately appealed to the U. S. Ambassador to Nigeria to support Imo State in the possible ways she could, not only on the HIV/AIDS issues but on the ragging Covid-19 pandemic as it concerns Imo State.

The Governor emphasized that the Covid-19 has had serious consequences on the way of life of the people, stressing that Imo State believes in the efficacy of the vaccinestowards reducing the spread and effect of the pandemic.

Governor Uzodimma who explained that taking the jab remains for now the only way to stay alive pleaded with the visiting Ambassador through the USAID and other donor agencies to come to the aid of Imo State, noting that “Imo people would be glad to get the popular Fitzer  vaccine.”

“Imo is in dire need of help in the areas of health services, infrastructure and overall development. That is why all health managers have been directed to be up and doing at ensuring that our people get the best.”

He thanked the Ambassador for the U.S. intervention and support through USAID and Centre for Disease Control towards the reduction and control of HIV and AIDS.

He reminded Ms. Fitzgibbon and her team that HIV/AIDS virus is still ravaging the country, noting that the major problem facing the HIV/AIDS workers and people living with the disease is “stigmatization and discrimination.”

The Governor assured of his government’s support to the efforts by both National and International bodies towards discouraging and reducing stigmatization and discrimination as they affect HIV/AIDS patients.

He regretted that even though the anti-retroviral drug which is the only established lifesaving treatment for the disease has not been properly conversed, “there is need to get people to know that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence,”

The highlight of the visit was the conferment of Chieftaincy title of Odi Uko na Mba (Rare Gem) on Ms. Fitzgibbon by the traditional institution of Imo State led by His Royal Majesty, Eze Emmanuel Okeke, Chairman Imo State Traditional Institution and Chairman Community Policing.

Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prof. Placid Njoku and other top government officials witnessed the ceremony.

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