LAGOS, March 14 (Reuters) - Nigeria has opened 41 new AIDS
treatment centres to give wider access to free anti-retroviral
therapy for people who are HIV positive, the government's
anti-AIDS agency said on Tuesday. About 3.5 million people are
living with the deadly virus in Africa's most populous country of
around 140 million people, the third-highest number after India
and South Africa.
Nigeria started giving out free anti-retroviral drugs (AVRs) in
January from 33 treatment centres to about 40,000 patients,
scrapping a 1,000 naira ($8) subsidy that patients previously had
to pay every month.
"We have added new treatment centres, bringing the total number
to 74," Babatunde Osotimehin, chairman of the National Action
Committee on AIDS (NACA), told Reuters. The centres are spread
across Nigeria's 36 states and the capital Abuja.
"We plan to set up more centres over the next few months to bring
treatment as close to the people as we can," he added.
Two-thirds of Nigerians live on less than a dollar a day and
campaigners say many HIV-positive people are too poor to pay for
the life-saving drugs which cost between 3,000 to 7,000 naira per
month on the open market.
Medecins Sans Frontier, which campaigns for wider access to free
AIDS treatment in Nigeria, lauded the new programme, but said
many patients still cannot pay for a series of monthly medical
tests for AVRs to be correctly administered. Many more cannot
afford treatment of opportunistic infections.
NACA plans to expand the anti-retroviral therapy to 250,000
patients by year-end, with funding from the Global Fund to Fight
AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the United States government and
other major donors, and savings from the debt write-off granted
Nigeria in 2005 by the Paris Club.
Osotimehin said the government is also studying ways to subsidise
the battery of medical tests while treatment for tuberculosis,
one of the most common illnesses among AIDS patients, was already
free in Nigeria.
He said full HIV/AIDS care including tests was free for children
and pregnant women -- a key part of efforts to prevent the
transmission of the virus from mother to child.
($ = 127.5 naira)