Cablegate: Deputy Secretary Claude Allen, U.S. Department Of

Published: Thu 22 Jan 2004 05:36 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
220536Z Jan 04
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Deputy Secretary Claude Allen, U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, and a delegation from the African Development
Foundation (ADF) and the U.S. Mission met with President Olusegun
Obasanjo on January 18th to discuss major health threats of polio
and HIV/AIDS and to introduce the ADFs expanded program in
Nigeria. The meeting was cordial and relaxed, although the
President appeared somewhat ill-informed about the current status
of both viruses in Nigeria. End Summary.
2. Charge?Rick Roberts opened the January 18th meeting with
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo by referring to the close
working relationship, cooperation and shared values between the
United States and Nigeria. He also thanked the African
Development Foundation (ADF) for arranging the meeting with
President Obasanjo and emphasized the United States' appreciation
for the open dialogue with the Government of Nigeria,
particularly on issues of policy reform, conflict management and
regional integration.
3. In his introduction of Deputy Secretary Allen, the Charge
highlighted the importance of Secretary Allen's visit to Nigeria
at a time of great challenge for Nigeria which is facing the twin
threats of HIV/AIDS and polio. He reiterated the United States
commitment to assisting Nigeria and strengthening the partnership
that exists between the two countries. He stated that HIV/AIDS
represents a major security threat to the region as Nigeria is
projected to be one of five countries in the next wave of the
epidemic, and that the increase in polio cases over the past year
had a deleterious impact on the health status of Nigerian
children and children in the region.
4. Deputy Secretary Allen focused his remarks on the two-fold
nature of his visit to Nigeria representing the United States
through the Department of Health and Human Services, the single
largest USG agency; and, as a member of the board of directors,
to introduce the African Development Foundation, which is
expanding its activities in Nigeria.
5. Deputy Secretary Allen committed the United States to a
stronger partnership and friendship with Nigeria in eradicating
polio. With Nigeria having half of the worlds remaining cases of
the virus, and the spillover from Nigeria to neighboring
countries, the potential impact in the region is a major
international health concern.
6. Mr. Allen congratulated President Obasanjo for his
leadership on raising HIV/AIDS as a serious issue for Nigeria and
the African continent and which requires concerted policy
initiatives and partnerships to address. The deputy secretary
singled out the National Action Committee on Aids (NACA) as a
strong and committed partner working closely with the United
States to implement the Presidents Emergency Plan for Aids Relief
(PEPFAR) in Nigeria. Mr. Allen pledged greater USG support to
assist Nigeria in building capacity in the public and private
sectors to address this looming epidemic.
7. USAID and ADF made brief presentations, thanking the
president for his continued support and commitment to their
programs. The president was particularly interested in the ADF
program of supporting community development of 400 houses for
low-income families in Jigawa state. The President asked several
questions concerning the selection of the state and the grass-
roots approach used to build community capacity and ownership of
the project.
8. The President was very relaxed and engaged during the
meeting. He was clearly pleased to see William Ford, past
President of ADF and a member of the delegation. The president
and Mr. Ford joked easily with each other and discussed their 35
year friendship which began during Mr. Fords tenure as USAID
mission director, 1972-77.
9. The President spoke openly about polio and believes that a
"purely health issue" has become politicized by some religious
leaders. He indicated that he must tread carefully given the
belief by some in the north that the vaccine contains harmful
substances. He mentioned that a learned Islamic professor has
been helpful in dispelling the myths surrounding the vaccine, but
that more advocacy is needed. The President stated that he
believes that Nigeria will be able to meet the 2005 target of
polio eradication.
10. The President reaffirmed the need to raise awareness of
HIV/AIDS. He is trying to assess the current status of HIV/AIDS
in Nigeria, but believes that, although the prevalence rate of
5.8 percent has not dropped, the exponential increase has been
arrested. He was surprised when he learned that the prevalence
rate in many rural areas is as high as or higher than the rate in
some urban areas. He recognizes that sexually active youth,
particularly young men, represent the largest cohort responsible
for spreading the virus, and that working with the private sector
is required to ensure provision of anti-retroviral drugs to the
largest number of people living with aids.
11. The Presidents final comments focused on the need to further
strengthen democracy, even within his own political party. He
mentioned that they "can't do enough" in this area and mentioned
that, although the national labor congress is threatening a
strike on Wednesday, January 24th as a result of the fuel
increases, they must continue to engage in dialogue to resolve
the issue.
12. The 45 minute meeting was cordial and open. The President
seemed somewhat ill-informed when discussing the health issues of
polio and HIV/AIDS and espoused the government line of everything
being under control. However, polio cases have doubled in less
than a year and resistance from the north has not abated. The
president also seemed to be less familiar with the HIV/AIDS
situation. Although Nigerias prevalence rate of 5.8 percent is
considered low, but under reported, the issue is the absolute
numbers of HIV positive people which stands around 4 million.
This is the third highest number of infections on the continent
and without immediate efforts to mount a coordinated and
comprehensive HIV/AIDS response, these numbers are likely to
double within the next ten years.
13. Following the meeting and in discussion with Embassy
officers, Deputy Secretary Allen recommended that the USG fully
support international efforts to arrest the polio virus. He has
offered to consult with HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to secure
his support for UNICEF to take the lead in assembling noted
Islamic scholars and health practitioners to engage the Nigerian
religious and community leaders on this growing problem.
Secretary Thompson has also sent a letter to the Minister of
Health urging Nigeria to focus on polio eradication. The U.S.
Mission will follow-up with his office as part of a larger
strategy (see septel) to address polio.
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