By Jonathan Ugbal: Government House Correspondent and Elijah Ugani: Health Correspondent
Cross River Governor, Senator Ben Ayade has called on Nigerians to always seek to know their HIV status and reflect on their actions as a means to curbing increasing rate of people living with HIV/AIDS.
The Governor, represented by his wife, Dr. Linda Ayade stated this at an event to mark the 2018 World AIDS Day with the theme; ‘Know Your Status’ at the Calabar Municipal council ground where he posited that being cautious was a favor done to both self and others.
“There is this adage that says, ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’ Today, I want to change it, I want to say ‘if you fail to know your status, you plan to die,’ please know your status,” Ayade said drawing cheers from stakeholders and the public who had gathered for the event.
On the need for people to know their status, Ayade said that: “We know that it is endemic in our midst but what we don’t want to hear is the rising incident. That is why we talk about today’s theme, ‘Know Your Status’
“It is a theme that goes far. Know your status is a theme that is telling you, especially if you know that you have been exposed to something suspicious, if you have been exposed to suspicious lifestyle like blood transfusion and others, you need to test yourself. Even if you have been tested in the past and some years have rolled by and you know that you have been exposed further, you still need to test yourself to be convinced that you have HIV or not.
“And, know your status, unlike before, it used to be a death sentence, but that is not what obtains today. Know your status today is rather giving life because of several reason; it helps you to be able to plan your life further. Our lives are in our hands. We know that we want you to leave this world when it is certain for you to live, we don’t want you to leave here when God has not apportioned for you to leave.”
The governor further averred that: “When we live life with careless acts and go living our lives without protection for ourselves, we are exposing ourselves, we are exposing our lives to the dangers of HIV AIDS and some other diseases.
“It is important for you to take your life in your hands and protect it. It is not just for yourself, it is for all of us, we love to see your smiling faces, we love to have you around us, your children love to keep you longer with them, your siblings, your parents, your friends; all of them love to see you. So, you are not doing it for yourself alone, you are doing it for humanity. We want to continue to live until our D Day comes naturally not by our own recklessness. And so, if you do not know your status, it means you are being careless with your life.”
The Director General of the State’s Agency for the Control of Aids, Dr. Rosemary Inyambe in her address commended all who turned out for the event, but lamented that, “unfortunately, bias such as stigma and discrimination will prevent people from taking an HIV test and access to confidential HIV testing is still an issue of concern.”
She continued: “As we implore everybody in the State to join other States in Nigeria and the rest of the world to draw attention to the HIV epidemic, we should ask ourselves if anything has changed.
“Are we still struggling over T-shirts and face caps? Are we more interested in supporting and providing for the people infected and the lives of the people not infected by HIV?”
Inyambe who reeled out statistics of the prevalence rates across focal local government areas in the State also averred that, “the State Government in partnership with development partners has made progress towards achieving the UNAIS 1990 target by ensuring that HIV prevention and treatment services are available and close to those who really need them in communities across the State.
“These includes among others, scaling up treatment, prevention care and support services, development and costing of the Cross River State HIV strategic plan for 2017 to 2021 as well as providing an enabling environment for implementing partners to work in the State.
“As we make progress towards achieving the UNAIS target in the State, it is imperative to know that there are many people in the State who still do not know their HIV status and not all who are eligible for treatment are currently on treatment as well as have not achieved viral load suppression.”
She commended the Governor Ben Ayade’s administration for including HIV/AIDS in the State’s health insurance scheme and expressed optimism that more will be done to ensure the State aligns with the Federal Government’s commitment to scale up alternative funding as donor fatigue sets in by, “committing at least 0.5 to one percent of the State’s monthly allocation to address the unmet needs for HIV/AIDS in Cross River State.”
She sued for Cross Riverians to take ownership of the HIV response to, “ensure sustainability of the gains already recorded by the government, implementing partners and stakeholders in the State HIV response.”
In her remarks, the commissioner for health, Dr. Inyang Asibong said the State is targeting several goals including mutual fidelity for couples and abstinence for youths while deploying an initiative called, test and treat.
“The Cross River State Government in collaboration with our partners is giving out free HIV/AIDS medication. There is what we just started (and) we are the very first State to start this in Nigeria and it is what we call ‘test and treat.’
“As long as we come to your house and you are tested and you are positive, we start you on drugs immediately and then refer you to the nearest health center; most of our health facilities are carrying out testing and giving out HIV/AIDS drugs completely free.
“There is no reason for us to have any new incident of HIV/AIDS in Cross River State, we want to bring down the incidents of HIV/AIDS in Cross River State to completely zero.
“And of course the prevalent rate, we want to maintain it because we know we cannot reduce it, of we reduce it, that means we want our people to die,” she said.
At the flag off of the week long breast feeding sensitisation campaign and vaccination against tetanus and neonatal tetanus, Dr. Ayade who lamented that most mothers do not attend antenatal classes because they have their own ways of, “taking care of themselves when they are pregnant,” warned that there was need to seek proper medical care.
“Those ways of theirs do not include vaccination and that is why it is important that we reach out to every woman that is of childbearing age and to sensitise them and to advocate for them to come out to health facilities to receive vaccinations against tetanus and neonatal tetanus,” she said.
The representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) country office in Abuja, Iwowore Dede, in her message said that the WHO supported the campaign because it is in line with its objectives.
“We have had immunization done in the Southeast and we decided to move over to the South South; this is the first campaign. In January (which is) another four to six weeks we will have a second round of this campaign to ensure that our mothers and our children do not have tetanus when pregnant and even during childbirth and even for the neonates under 28 days of life
“We are happy that you are helping us flag off and we are asking that all mothers, young girls up to the age of 49 that are childbearing age to come out and ensure that they get themselves vaccinated,” Dede said.
The Director, Primary Health in their State’s Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr. Onebieni Ana who represented the Director General in his remarks said that the State picked Obubra local government area to focus on “intensive activities” for the breastfeeding week as has been the trend for years.
For the eradication campaign, he averred that: “from today, we are conducting maternal, neonatal, tetanus eradication campaign and this exercise is taken place across 12 local government areas in Cross River State.
“Our intention is to bring down the number of women who come down with tetanus when they give birth. And so, we are targeting them in pregnancy and we are targeting them during the neonatal period.”
He further explained that: “We are here to create awareness and to ensure that our mothers come out in their numbers to do the campaigns. We are going to the more elaborate sensitisation later and we know that with your presence here, you are going to help us build that swell of women that will come out and take the services.”
Earlier, the Head of local government administration in the council, Mr. Ngaji Augustine had encouraged, “all the mothers to take advantage of this campaign and ensure that all their children are immunised so that the death we experience from the tetanus infection will be eliminated in Cross River State.”
Dr. Ayade later presented basic survival packs to nursing mothers and proceeded to flag off the event by immunising one of those present.
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