NIGERIA: MSF to expand HIV/AIDS treatment scheme
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
LAGOS, 24 January (PLUSNEWS) - Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Friday it planned to sharply increase the number of people living with HIV/AIDS who receive comprehensive treatment and counselling for free in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city.
Tobias Luppe, who runs the MSF access to essential medicines campaign in Nigeria, told PlusNews that the number of people provided with comprehensive treatment and counselling in this city of 14 million people would rise four-fold from 250 at present to nearly 1,000 by the end of this year.
“This means enrolling more people living with HIV/AIDS in general as well as at the same time speeding up the process of putting people on ARVs once they have reached the defining stage,” he said.
MSF-Netherlands launched the HIV/AIDS care and support project at Lagos General Hospital last August to offer a comprehensive programme of treatment to people with HIV/AIDS.
Luppe said 250 HIV positive people are currently enrolled in the programme, but only 50 receive antiretroviral drugs. The others have not reached the stage where ARV treatment is deemed to be beneficial.
“The reason for the scale-up is that we re-analysed the potential of the programme and we are investing in human resources,” Luppe said. “Thus we can save more lives and at the same time serve as model of scaling up on the national level.”
According to UN estimates, about four million of Nigeria's 126 million people are living with the virus.
MSF said roughly 500,000 are in desperate need of ARV treatment to prolong their life and improve their overall state of health. However, less than 15,000 were currently receiving the therapy.
“Just today, more than 900 Nigerian will die of HIV-related diseases,” said Luppe. “These deaths will tear families apart, will separate parents from their children, will have a heavy impact on this country. But these deaths are not necessary and must be stopped.”
Almost two million Nigerian children have already lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, according to UN statistics.
Luppe said the MSF project at Lagos General Hospital was a good example of the sort of care and support that people living with HIV/AIDS need.
The project, implemented in partnership with the Lagos state department of health, offers a comprehensive range of services, including testing, counselling, medical care, nutritional support and free ARV treatment.
According to Luppe, patients lucky enough to be included in Nigeria's national treatment programme currently pay 1,000 Naira (US $7) per month for their ARV drugs. However, this fee does not cover the cost of drugs required to treat opportunistic infections, nor the frequent laboratory tests which are necessary and have to be paid for separately.
“Some 70 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. How will they be able to finance their lifelong therapy?” Luppe asked.
He added that most of the MSF patients have trouble even financing their transport costs to come to the hospital. If people have to pay, he said, they will sell everything they own, to receive AIDS treatment. They will cut money on their children’s education as well as on food and other essential needs.
“But, sooner or later, they will have to interrupt their treatment because they simply cannot afford their drugs anymore,” Luppe said. “It happens in Nigeria.”
Through a worldwide access to essential medicines campaign, MSF has urged governments, international organisations and drug manufacturers to cut prices and simplify treatment protocols to allow more people access to ARV therapy.
MSF has been caring for people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries since the mid-90s, but the medical relief agency only launched its first ARV programmes in 2000. It currently provides antiretroviral treatment to more than 23,000 patients in 27 countries, among them Guinea, Benin, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
HIV/AIDS has spread steadily in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country. According to government figures, five percent of Nigeria's adult population is now estimated to be HIV-positive, up from less than two percent in 1991.
The National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA) said 100,000 people would be enrolled this year in the government's own ARV treatment scheme. That represents a six-fold increase on the present number of beneficiaries.
The number of government-run HIV/AIDS counselling, testing and treatment centres is due to double from 50 to 100. Meanwhile, NACA's AIDS awareness campaign is targeting 20 to 29 year-olds, who have the country's highest HIV prevalence rate at 5.6 percent.
“Prevention and treatment are two sides of the same coin,” said Luppe, adding that the Nigerian government “urgently needs to make the fight against HIV/AIDS its top national priority”. “All people living with HIV in Nigeria have a right to access comprehensive AIDS care, including antiretroviral treatment,” he concluded.