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Persons living with HIV/AIDS decry service charges at RSUTH

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Sani Aliyu

Management Vows Action Against Illegal Charges
The management of Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH) has vowed to sanction health workers collecting service charges from those living with Human Immuno Deficiency Virus (HIV) and AIDS, as this hinders access to care.

The facility’s Deputy Coordinator, HIV/Anti-Retroviral Therapy, Dr. Abere Sarah, said this, while responding to claims by the Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS in the state, when they alleged that demand for service charges by health workers was preventing their members from accessing treatment, which had led to the death of some members.

The Rivers State Coordinator of the group, Mrs. Emmanuel Josephine, disclosed this when the National Agency for Control of AIDS (NACA) visited the state to assess the level of treatment provided for persons living with HIV and the challenges they face.

The charges, according to Emmanuel, ranged from N200 to N500.

Dr. Sarah disclosed that those involved in such acts were the bad eggs.

She said: “We do not charge in this centre. If it is happening, it means someone is doing the wrong thing. We have formed a committee to monitor such illicit attitude, and presently, some culprits are being punished. We found a few people and some of them are on suspension.

“The new Chief Medical Director is very aggressive in doing the right thing. This is the only centre where you have PCR laboratory and a viral load-testing machine that is serving most parts of the South-south and Southeast. So, we are determined to doing the right thing.”

However, The Guardian finding at some of the health facilities visited with NACA, including Okomoko General Hospital in Etche Local Council and Obio Cottage Hospital in Obio/Akpor, revealed shortages in supply of test kits, though drugs were available at the various pharmacies.

There was also lack of funding, especially for awareness and campaigns against the disease. It was obvious that the awareness drive on HIV in the state has slowed down, as there were no more radio jingles, banners, billboards and even in the social media.

The RSUTH Deputy Coordinator, HIV/Anti-Retroviral Therapy further noted that 3, 282 people were receiving treatments at the facility, adding that 46 new HIV cases with 28 positively linked to care were discovered in April alone.

She said: “We just moved from the General Hospital to the Teaching Hospital. We are a core centre for HIV care in Rivers State. We hope with the new partners, we can cover the 23 local government areas effectively. There is plenty of work to be done and we are ready for it.”

She attributed the high number of HIV patients in the centre to its referral nature.
Meanwhile, the Medical Director of Okomoko General Hospital, Dr. Ndidi Utchay, has decried the high level of HIV cases in the council.

She said: “In a week, we have at least six males with the virus, while pregnant women are about 17. We don’t charge for anything regarding HIV cases. The patients pay for nothing, and even their care gift is free. However, our major challenge is consistent testing because sometimes, the test results received in January might be faulty by June.”

From interactions with some persons living with HIV, it was observed that some of them had overcome self-discrimination, while some still suffer from it.

Interestingly, some pregnant women prefer the Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs), perhaps due to high charges in hospitals, as well as fear of testing positive to HIV.

The Manager of Local Action Committee on HIV/AIDS (LACA), in Obio/Akpor, Mrs. Data Jones, said her team monitors TBAs’ activities closely, to establish their true standard, as well as lecture them on precautionary measures to effectively perform their duties. She, however, regretted that lack of funds was hampering their job.

She said: “There is no funding at all. LACA and NACA are not properly funded, which has made us to be handicapped in executing our jobs. Obio/Akpor has 17 wards and over 100 TBAs. But without adequate funding, it will be difficult to effectively carry out our tasks.”

She recalled an incident, where a pregnant woman in one of the homes was later enrolled into the network, but she refused to take her drugs because the TBA told her the drugs would kill her baby.

She said: “Regrettably, her babies tested HIV positive after birth, due to misinformation by the local TBA. We need to step up our games, so that TBAs will know their limit. However, when there is no fund to do that, what do we do? We become handicapped.”

The owner of a TBA home in Rukpokwu community in Obio/Akpo Local Government Area, Rosemary Anero, said she regularly attended LACA trainings and referred cases she couldn’t handle to appropriate hospitals.

NACA’s Principal Communications Officer, Olushola Idris, said the visit was aimed at knowing how people living with HIV/AIDS were faring, if they could access treatment, and the challenges they face.

However, there is need for relevant health agencies and stakeholders to monitor and ensure there is adequate fund to tackle the various challenges, as well as ensure the monies are judiciously utilised.


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