By Sarafa Ibrahim
With the risk of transmission of Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV) not showing any real sign of slowing, the Osun State Government on Thursday launched the HIV Surge Treatment in Osogbo, the state capital. The initiative, which is in conjunction with the Excellence Community Education Welfare Scheme (ECEWS), is to drive awareness and provides effective testing and treatment mechanism in line with the goal of eliminating HIV in the state by September 2023.
At the launch which held at the Civil Service Commission building at the Government Secretariat in Abeere, the state government, diplomats, medical experts and the larger community were unanimous in resolve to bring HIV under control.
According to statistics by the Osun State Ministry of Health, there is an estimated 29,936 persons living with HIV in the state, making it one of the lowest in the country with 0.9% prevalence in Nigeria. Of the infected, the data revealed that only 16,283 persons are on treatment as at 24th of March, 2023, leaving a balance 13,653 persons yet to turn up for treatment.
Speaking at the event, Governor Ademola Ademola who was represented by his deputy, Prince Kola Adewusi, lauded the US government, partners and health workers for their sustained efforts in tackling the challenge posed by HIV/AIDS.
Governor Adeleke who shared his administration stride in improving access to testing and treatment for HIV patients, promised more contributions to ensure that the state is free of the deadly virus.
“To date, thousands of people in Osun State have benefited from HIV testing and treatment services at no cost, and we have seen a leap in treatment coverage by 12% in the first 5 months of active surge implementation,” the Governor pointed out.
“This means that more people living with HIV can access the lifesaving antiretroviral drugs, prophylaxis, and other essential services they need to stay healthy and thrive.
“In addition, we have made progress in reducing new HIV infections, particularly among adolescent girls and young women, who are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than their male counterparts.
“We know that the driving factor is inequality, and so we are working to combine services for sexual and reproductive health with services for preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence and HIV, to design interventions that work for all women and girls, in all their diversity.
“Ensuring all pregnant women have access to HIV testing services and treatment as needed, this will keep us in focus for an HIV free generation. I implore all Osun indigenes and dwellers to ensure they know their status and adopt healthy lifestyles.”
In his brief remark, the US Consular-General, Mr. Will Stevens said the fight against HIV/AIDS is a collective one, and as such, everyone must key into efforts to curb its spread. He enjoined people who have any reason to doubt their status to go for test as that will ensure that the disease is not spread further.
“To beat HIV/AIDS, we need the community (the people, the police, the government, the traditional rulers, the nurses, the doctors etc),” Mr. Stevens noted, adding that “I can’t wait to be back and celebrate osun state for reaching 90-95% on the unique patient data table.”
In her presentation at the event, the Country Director of Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Dr. (Mrs) Mary Adetinuke Boyd gave a brief overview of the intervention of the United States Government in the fight against HIV/AIDS. She said the launch of HIV Treatment Surge in Osun is in important step in beating the dreading virus, which according to her match the very goal of the US government through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
She encouraged people at the infection to go for testing to know their status, as early detection and treatment significant prevents transmission. She allayed fears shared by many on knowing their status, noting that HIV is never a death sentence. “HIV is not a death sentence, it can be treated. That is important for us to know,” she stressed.
Dr. Boyd applauded the government of Osun State under Governor Adeleke for demonstrating the political will in the fight against HIV, noting that the partnership will guarantee the provision of test kits, eliminate stigma, remove user fees, grassroot sensitisation and timely payment of workers.
The Chair, US Global AIDS Coordinator at the US Department of State, Dr. Shabeen Ally, spoke extensively on the benefits of the collaboration between Osun State and the US government and how it will aid the fight against HIV/AIDS. “The key thing I have note, is that the partnership between the US government and Osun State is very strong,” she added.
She assured the state government of the readiness of the US government to provide every necessary supports, stressing the need for everyone to know their status, which she noted is free.
In his own speech earlier, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kayode Adegoke, said the launch of the HIV Surge Treatment is a ray of hope in the effort to rid the state of HIV/AIDS. He disclosed that the initiative will broaden the prospect of identifying people with the disease and placing them on lifesaving treatment, which will in turn curb spread and in no time, be eliminated from the state.
“This will mark a turning point in the treatment of HIV. This is an exciting time for the health sector under Adeleke,” he added.
The Director of Public Health, Ministry of Health, Dr. Babatunde Hakeem Bello, gave an overview of efforts of the state government in combating HIV/AIDS over the years, describing the launch of the HIV Surge Treatment as a further boost in totally beating the disease.
He detailed current approach adopted by the state government in combating the virus, which include: scaling up of HIV testing in the 30 LGAs, expanding access to treatment through activation of new treatment sites and community initiation of Anti-Retroviral Therapy, real time monitoring of surge intervention through integrated situation room, among others.
Going forward, Dr. Bello outlined that the state government will need to focus on closing saturation gap through optimization of ART surge, ensuring equitable service delivery (improving access to quality HIV services), scale up of PMTCT services, sustainable service delivery and Multisectoral partnership.