US spent $85bn to support global fight against HIV/AIDS ― Pierangelo

The United States (US) Consul-General in Nigeria, Claire Pierangelo, on Thursday disclosed that over $85 billion had been invested by the American government in its quest to tackle HIV/AIDS across the globe, saying this has contributed to saving more than 17 million lives across 54 countries.

Pierangelo who disclosed this in Akure, Ondo State capital, during the launch of the Ondo State Antiretroviral Surge Response, said about $6billion of the $85b had been made available by the US government to assist Nigeria in fighting against the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country.

According to the Consul-General, “despite these efforts, we are currently at a crossroads in the HIV response around the world and in Nigeria.

“The HIV/AIDS continues to be a leading cause of death globally, with over 38 million people living with HIV worldwide, and almost 700,000 people dying from AIDS-related illnesses in 2019.

“In Nigeria alone, about 1.9 million people are currently living with HIV, with more than 44,000 deaths linked to the disease in 2019.”

She however said that over 1.2 million people across Nigeria were currently receiving free HIV/AIDS treatment for life on the bill of the US government.

She said the launch became necessary to help identify people living with HIV and place those newly identified on free life-saving treatment and to also help to retain those already receiving treatment.

“Both efforts are needed for better treatment outcomes and improved quality of life for those affected. The ART Surge program in Ondo State is building from a strong programmatic foundation, as well as strong leadership from the Government.

“We will reach the historic achievement of epidemic control if we can continue to work together to remove all barriers that may impact health-seeking behaviours among people living with HIV, including ending user fees, stigma, and discrimination.

“Services must be client-centred, so we need to urgently address issues like long wait times in facility settings and reduced number of clinical visits.

“We understand the challenges in bringing these improvements to reality and remain firmly convinced that the benefits of removing these hurdles far surpass the challenges at hand.”

Pierangelo said the US government was collaborating with the Ondo State government to scale up the number of those currently receiving HIV/AIDS treatment to end the epidemic in the state and the country at large.

She expressed optimism that the disease would out under control if the government and other stakeholders can continue to work together to remove all barriers that may impact health-seeking behaviours among people living with HIV, including ending user fees, stigma, and discrimination.

“We understand the challenges in bringing these improvements to reality and remain firmly convinced that the benefits of removing these hurdles far surpass the challenges at hand.”

She appealed to the state government to eliminate all user fees charged by healthcare facilities for non-essential services or those already provided by PEPF AR, which is a barrier for people living with HIV who want to access PEPF AR supported HIV services.

“By eliminating such user fees, the Government will increase demand and ensure more efficient utilization of services provided by PEPFAR, which will lead to our mutual goal of HIV epidemic control in Ondo State,” she said.

Also speaking, the Country Director, US Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Mary Boyd, said the US government had been partnering on putting people living with HIV on treatment for at least 18 years.

“This is another phase in the partnership where we are now trying to find the remaining individuals who are infected and don’t have access to treatment,” she said.

The state governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, said the state government has been placing a premium on the improved living standards of the people with HIV where they live, work or play.

Akeredolu who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Mrs. Oladunni Odu, said the state government is determined to put a stop to all forms of preventable morbidity and mortality.

The governor assured that “the state will leave no stone unturned until the state becomes HIV/AIDS – competent and ultimately HIV free of new infections that the disease is no longer a threat to collective well being and survival.”

He called on international partners and other stakeholders to continue to join hands with the government in order to achieve the ultimate goal of eradicating the HIV disease.

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