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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 16:49 GMT
Nigeria tries cheaper Aids drugs
South African baby
By the BBC's Dan Isaacs in Lagos

A highly publicised new anti-Aids programme in Nigeria has got off to a poor start because hospitals due to begin distributing cheap imported generic drugs have not yet received their supplies.

Over the coming months, 10,000 patients are due to be treated with anti-retroviral drugs imported from India.

HIV/Aids in Africa 2001
3.4m new infections
2.3m deaths
28m living with Aids
Life expectancy: 47 years
Without Aids: 62 years
44% of pregnant urban women in Botswana HIV+
Recent figures published by the Ministry of Health indicate that almost 3.5 million Nigerians are believed to be infected with the HIV virus.

But there is considerable doubt whether such a generic drugs programme is the most appropriate way to tackle HIV infection in Nigeria.

The Nigerian experiment in tackling the Aids pandemic will be closely observed across Africa.

Prevention urged

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has strongly endorsed the trials.

However, critics of the programme have questioned the ability of the country's poorly managed health system to cope with the close monitoring of patients required during the administering of the anti-HIV drugs.

Moreover, critics argue that whatever resources are available should be put into HIV prevention.

But those in favour of the trials point to the widespread use of similar but much more costly drugs in Europe and the United States and ask why Africans should be deprived of the chance to live a longer, healthier life despite HIV infection.

Multinational drug companies have strongly opposed the sale of generic copies of their own branded drugs, arguing that it reduces their profits and undermines their ability to invest in further research and development.

But following a court case in South Africa early this year, the argument for prohibiting developing countries from purchasing such generic drugs has been considerably weakened.

As for the Nigerian trials, there is already considerable doubt whether sufficient drugs have yet arrived in the country to stage an effective drugs programme.

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 ON THIS STORY
Amar Lula, md of Cipla, generic drugs manufacturer
"The Aids patients today cannot afford these drugs at the price at which they are selling"
WHO Drugs and Medicine policy unit Dr Jonathan Quick
"A very welcome step"
See also:

20 Jun 01 | Business
WTO to tackle high medicine costs
27 Nov 01 | Africa
Hand out Aids drug says SA judge
22 Apr 01 | Africa
Kenya readies Aids drugs law
01 Dec 01 | Africa
Drugs boost for World Aids Day
05 Aug 01 | Africa
Obasanjo: 'Give soldiers condoms'
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