Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State says the state government would sanction any of its health workers found charging fees for HIV services in the state.
The governor gave the warning in Owerri on Tuesday at the official launch of the Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) Surge Response organised by the state government in collaboration with the United States Embassy in Nigeria and Caritas Nigeria.
Mr Ihedioha, who reiterated his commitment to the welfare of Imo people, expressed regret that Imo was one of the seven states contributing over 60 per cent of Nigeria’s HIV burden.
He pledged to pay prompt attention to the recommendations of the HIV/AIDS consortium so as to find the yet to be identified victims of the pandemic and put them on ART.
The governor urged the people of the state to endeavour to know their HIV status, promising to provide funds for the purchase of additional test kits for hospitals in the state.
“Statistics indicate that Imo is one of the seven priority states with prevalence of HIV. We, therefore, pledge free HIV test and treatment.
“The ministries of health and education will liaise to ensure that all students of tertiary institutions in our state are tested.
“I also appeal to all pregnant women to know their status so as to checkmate mother to child transfer and ensure that henceforth no child is born with HIV in Imo,” he said.
In a welcome address, Imo Commissioner for health, Vin Udokwu, said the state had 54,000 HIV patients with 16,000 of them currently placed on treatment.
He, however, added that Imo was the only state to have met its weekly target of finding 112 yet to be identified carriers of the virus and placing them on ART with a view to achieving the epidemic control target of September 2020.
Also speaking, the Imo Programme Coordinator, Nigeria AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS), Desmond Emeh, said that 4,700 new cases were expected among persons 15 years and above in 2020.
He described as `unfortunate’ the HIV prevalence rate of 1.8 per cent among persons aged 0 to 64, while thanking Samuel Ohiri, the chairman, Imo Council of Traditional Rulers for donating 1,000 test kits to the state.
In her contribution, Kathleen FitzGibbon, the US Deputy Chief of Mission in Nigeria, commended the governor for his proactive efforts in the fight against HIV in the state.
Ms FitzGibbon promised that the U.S. would continue to provide the necessary support to Nigeria and other countries with HIV needs adding that the USA had spent over 60 billion dollars in fighting the disease since 2004.
She, however, urged people living with HIV to act as ambassadors to the rest of society and shun stigmatization as according to her, HIV is not a death sentence.