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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Nigeria should distribute free AIDS drugs - NGOs

LAGOS, June 10 (Reuters) - Nigerian AIDS campaigners called on the government on Friday to provide free life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs to stem growing resistance among infected Nigerians.
Nigeria provides ARVs to 10,000 adults and 5,000 children at a subsidised monthly cost of 1,000 naira ($7) per patient, but many poor patients interrupt their therapy due to poverty, causing drug resistance.
"We ask you to make anti-retroviral therapy ... completely free in the Nigerian public health care sector," said a coalition of AIDS lobby groups in a letter to President Olusegun Obasanjo.
"If people living with HIV have to pay for their treatment, they will have to sell their property and cut down on education, food and other essential needs to be able to afford it."
The campaigners said many of the 3.5 million Nigerians infected with the deadly virus who interrupted their treatment were now resistant to the ARV pills.
"The 1,000 naira charge is seriously affecting the adherence of many infected people to their drug regime," Pat Matemilola, the coordinator of the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, told Reuters.
"It is not as if the drugs are not available, but government lacks the political will to make treatment free, that is what we are trying to reverse," said Matemilola, a medical doctor and retired army officer.
Nigeria is the world's eighth largest oil exporter, but around 70 percent of its 140 million people live on less than a dollar a day and healthcare has been in decline for decades.
Nigeria is drawing $20 million from a global AIDS fund over three years, and plans to expand the programme to cover 100,000 patients this year once more international donations become available.
The top African oil producer has said it was looking to the United States and donor agencies to provide $248 million to expand the programme further to include 200,000 sufferers.

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