By Idugh Sunday & Jovitta Iorshase
As the world commemorated the 35th annual World AIDS Day last Friday, the Benue State Governor, Rev. Fr Hyacinth Alia has promised to sustain collaboration with development partners to strengthen, not only HIV/AIDS programme in the state, but the Health services in general.
The governor, who was represented by his deputy, Barr Samuel Ode, made the promise at the IBB Square, Makurdi, Benue State, assuring that the state will engage implementing partners and pay counterpart funding.
“A state like ours that places emphasis on Agriculture is well aware of the need to have a healthy population. It is in this context that the old time adage: ‘Health is wealth’ can be fully appreciated.
The number of new HIV infections rising among some subpopulations in some regions of the world is worrisome and HIV prevention efforts must be reinvigorated, if the world is to stay on the Fast-Track to ending the AIDS pandemic by 2030.
“The 2023 global theme is tagged: “Let Communities Lead”. Nigeria has adapted this global theme to “Communities: Leadership to End AIDS by 2030”. This is to ensure that all stakeholders align their efforts and leaders of various communities are guided to provide their clear leadership roles and join the efforts in the national HIV/AIDS response to end AIDS by 2030.” He stated.
He further assured that, the state will continue to fight insecurity, provide sustainable food security, ensure justice, fairness and equity; improve physical environment, forestall quality education, sanitation and potable water which are some of the determinants of health as a priority.
“Under my administration as the Executive Governor of Benue State, in line with my Renewed Hope agenda, HIV is going to be a critical health concern and would enjoy the required attention. There will be enhanced enabling environment for more partners to come into the state in the medical sector.
“The Benue State Government would ensure compliance to end AIDS by 2030. This is going to be realised through removing obstacles to HIV intervention in Benue State,” he reiterated.
The governor also appreciated the strategic efforts of BENSACA, Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), National Agency for Control of AIDS (NACA) and the teaming Donor Agencies as well as implementing Partners in the bid to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Benue State.
In his remarks, the state commissioner of Health and Human Services, Dr. Marcllinus Yanmar Ortese assured the development partners of the state’s support to further reduce the prevalence rate of 4.9 percent to zero, adding that, according to records shown, 236,012 persons are enrolled and receiving HIV treatment and are also enjoying sustained care and support.
“The state government through the Agency for AIDS Control (BenSACA) and Ministry of Health and Human Services is poised to increase collaboration with development Partners and other critical stakeholders with the objective of addressing existing challenges confronting effective HIV intervention”. He stated.
The Acting Executive Secretary, Benue State AIDS Control Agency (BenSACA), Dr Jacob Awodi in his remarks said, the commemoration each year allows the people to reflect on the impact of HIV on mankind and also to keep faith and hope alive to end the pandemic.
He however, lamented that, despite significant reduction in the prevalence rate, there is still an upsurge of new infections, especially among the Key Population (KP) which has led to a rapid approach of intervention.
He further appreciated the efforts of the Governor, his support to BenSACA and, creating an enabling environment for HIV response in the state, particularly in the area of security, salaries, pensions which has made services more accessible.
APIN Health Initiative, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, World Health Organization, Civil Society for HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, Hyacinth Alia Support Foundation (HASUF), Queen of Culture among other Partners all felicitated with the state and those living positively on the occasion.
Similarly, the National Youth Network for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Development, Benue State chapter (NYNETHA), Civil Society Organizations and Implementing Partners (IPs) have conducted a Candlelight procession to commemorate those who died due to HIV/AIDS pandemic or related diseases and identify with those who are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.
Speaking during the event last Thursday, the state Programme Manager of NYNETHA, Mr. Pius Peter Ogolekwu said, the purpose for the event was to begin the 2023 World’s AIDS Day commemoration by remembering those that have lost loved ones or their lives to HIV/AIDS.
He explained that, the event was to create awareness and sensitize the community of the urgent need to eradicate HIV/AIDS and preach against stigma and discrimination against those living with the virus.
“Generally, the candlelight procession is an initiative NYENTHA started which has continued due to the impact it has made so far. It is an avenue to remember loved ones, condole with family members, support and sensitize against HIV stigmatization in the communities to avoid new infections.
“We have also improved mobilization this year as most IPs have joined in the awareness creation for the first time. I also call on the youths in various communities, especially those working with the organization, to rise to the challenge and take the lead in HIV/AIDS response activities to ensure a HIV free nation. Going forward we hope not to record any HIV deaths,” he stated.
Health Initiative representative of APIN, Mrs Lucy Tembe said, “We need to, at least, show love to those of us who lost our loved ones, those whose relatives are still on treatment and are ensuring that they live. Let the information gotten here spread far and wide so that others will know and be saved.
“APIN at her level, we are ready to provide the services that are required for the treatment of HIV/AIDS in the state.” She concluded.
The state Coordinator, Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWAN), Benue State chapter, Mr Ali Baba, particularly appreciated, the Benue State Governor, Rev.Hyacinth Iormem Alia for doing what none of his predecessors had done concerning HIV response in the state and all the IPs, stakeholders and Networks for their consistency in the response over the years and urged them to continue in that spirit.
“I appreciate Governor Hyacinth Iormem Alia so much, for doing what the previous governors had not done. It is the first time HIV budget is presented, signed, approved and funds released to us before the World’s AIDS Day Commemoration.
“This has never happened in the past, he has really demonstrated that, he is in this fight of Zero HIV/AIDS target with us, so let us support him as much as we can to do his work well.
“Also, as the theme reads: ‘Let Communities lead ‘, this implies that, programming is shifting to the community, so we should be prepared to take the driver’s seat in HIV/AIDS response activities, by living up to expectations not to let the purpose or Governor down.”He stated.
Other Networks and IPs including: Primary Health Care Board, represented by Mrs Martha Agwaza, Civil Society for HIV and AIDS in Nigeria, Benue State chapter (CiSHAN ) represented by Mr Amos Uzua, Association of Positive Youths in Nigeria (APYN) represented by the state Coordinator, Mr Markson Oheji, FIDA, Ministry of Education among others, all solemnly pledged to continue in the fight by showing love and support until the zero target is achieved.
High points of the event included a walk from Ibrahim IBB Square to Ken Ville Park, Makurdi and goodwill messages.