The campaign to make cheap HIV/AIDS drugs available recently recorded a major breakthrough in Nigeria. Thanks to the international medical humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), an improved variety of a drug for treating sufferers has arrived in the country. However, the breakthrough did not come about without a struggle. Paul Okolo spoke with people about the drug delivery system made possible by MSF.
Recently, MSF received a consignment of Kaletra, a highly effective drug for treating people living with HIV/AIDS. The American drug maker, Abbot, shipped the medicine following six months of intense pressure by MSF. MSF paid just 500 US dollars per person for a year's treatment compared with about 5,000 dollars, which is the selling price in the US.
MSF official Gina Bark says Kaletra is an improved version of an older drug.
"The new formula is heat stable, it does not require refrigeration, you don't have to take food and the pill burden is lower. This drug is made for Africa."
For a country like Nigeria that has at least three million people living with Aids, medical experts say this drug gives hope of better care. It is also tailor-made to overcome the lack of social amenities such as electric power and food.
But it could be years before Kaletra is readily available in Africa if countries fail to follow the example of MSF, which has been campaigning for years for drug companies to make their products available to poor countries. The humanitarian body says pressure must be put on Abbot to register the drug in needy African countries while the regulatory bodies of those countries should approve the drug.
For Bark, Nigeria must intensify efforts to make sure that cheaper drugs are made available for its citizens. The government has pledged to provide free care for 250,000 people living with Aids. But Bark says most people in the rural areas may still be left out.
"If you look at the amount of facilities available for patients who need treatment, it's very few for the number of people who need it. The treatment is a big issue. If you go outside the big cities, in some states there is nothing. The public must also be made aware that treatment is available. If you are on treatment you can live pretty much a normal life."
As MSF views the dilemma, for millions of AIDS patients in developing countries, it is indeed time to deliver on affordable treatment and an effective vaccine that they have for many years been waiting patiently for.