By Vivian Ihechu
U.S Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, says HIV/AIDS can be eliminated as a public health threat through positive partnerships.
Blinken made the assertion when he visited the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in Lagos on Wednesday.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the visit was to discuss the history and evolution of NIMR from the early days of the HIV pandemic to present day’s efforts to detect and respond to emerging health threats.
Nigeria is the third country Blinken is visiting on his Africa tour aimed at building better bilateral relations and partnership with the African Continent.
Blinken will be visiting Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Angola.
In Nigeria, he will be discussing the U.S.-Nigeria bilateral relationship and commitments made during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, in the areas of climate, food security, and health security.
At NIMR, Blinken met with NIMR’s Director of Research and Acting Director-General, Prof. Oliver Ezechi and members of the NIMR team.
Ezechi represented the Director-General of NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Salako.
Blinken said: “The United States and Nigeria have been working together, going back to the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the extraordinary PEPFAR programme.
“The PEPFAR programme established by President Bush has continued under successive administrations in partnership with our friends here, and is getting us to the point where we can eliminate HIV/AIDS as a public health threat.
“It has already saved well over 20 million lives and changed the lives of millions of other people.
“But what’s even more powerful about it, is that because of the work that we did and the platform that we established, when COVID-19 hit, our friends here were able to use the PEPFAR platform to address the COVID challenge and do it so successfully.
“ And even more, so much of the knowledge that they’ve built up over the years allowed them to really take matters into their own hands and, for example, develop right here diagnostic kits.’’
According to him, when supply chains were disrupted, when it was hard to get things moving around the world, the NIMR researchers took matters into their own hands.
“ And that’s because one of the very powerful things about what we do working with others is that we transfer knowledge, we transfer expertise.
“And ultimately that leads to our friends and partners developing their own strong capacity to do things for themselves.
“And there’s no better example than here, at this remarkable institution.
“That’s treating people, but also doing the research, developing new diagnostics and contributing to not only the health security for Nigeria, but I think, increasingly for countries in the region and ultimately for everyone else in the world.’’
According to Blinken, the partnership with NIMR is just a powerful example of the partnership between the U.S. and Nigeria on public health.
“The transition from simply providing assistance, as important as that is, to helping our partners develop the capacity to work so effectively for themselves as well as for other people.
“So I’m really grateful for the opportunity to see this firsthand.
“It only underscores the importance of continuing to extend the PEPFAR programme and getting that done quickly.
“ It is literally a matter of saving more lives, changing more lives, dealing once and for all with HIV/AIDS.
“And also continuing to strengthen public health systems so that when the next epidemic comes along – and it will – we and countries around the world are in a much better place to deal with it quickly and effectively.
“ The stakes are real. They couldn’t be higher, but you can see the results – the positive results – when we work with this kind of collaboration,’’ he said.
Responding, Ezechi commended the outcome of the meeting, saying that it was very positive.
He said: “You know when we are supported by an agency or government, and they’re seeing the outcome of that support to the institution they are happy.
“They are happy about what we are doing. They were happy about how we started in 2002, and where we are today in 2024.”
He noted that NIMR was now able to diagnose not only HIV, adding that the institute had also been able to use the PEPFAR platform to manufacture kits and train its scientists.
Ezechi said that HIV had declined in the last three years, adding that there had been no case of a mother who passed the virus to the baby.
“So, that will tell you that we’ve done excellently well,” he said. (NAN)www.nannews.ng
Edited by Christiana Fadare