Nigeria to Double Free AIDS Treatment Centers

Nigeria plans to double its network of AIDS treatment centers, the government said Friday.

This month, Nigeria began offering free antiretroviral therapy (ARVs) at 33 treatment centers to HIV/AIDS patients who previously had to pay 1,000 naira ($8 US) a month for the drugs. "We plan to add an additional 33 centers in the first quarter," said Babatunde Osotimehin, chairperson of the National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA).

An estimated 40,000 people are on ARVs in Nigeria, where 3.5 million people have HIV/AIDS. NACA has set a goal of reaching 250,000 HIV/AIDS patients by the end of the year, a target Osotimehin said he is confident the committee can attain, in part because patient fees have been waived.

ARVs are being paid for by the Nigerian government, as well as by key donors such as the World Bank, the U.S. government and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

"There will be greater equity," said Osotimehin. "We are not yet in a position to have universal access, but the fact that poor people will be able to access drugs is a major progress."

Osotimehin said the government is studying how to subsidize treatment-monitoring tests and drugs for opportunistic infections for adults. These, in addition to AIDS treatment, are already provided free to children and pregnant women. TB treatment is already free.

Late last year, a Global Fund panel expressed "serious concerns" about NACA's missed targets, ability to implement grants from the fund, questionable data, failure to computerize its accounting system, and low disbursement. Osotimehin said NACA has addressed all of those issues, which he blamed on delays due to bureaucracy at NACA and the Global Fund. NACA has sent the Global Fund a full account of drugs delivered and funds disbursed, he said.