September 18, 2007 / 7:06 PM / 12 years ago

Nigeria triples number on free HIV drugs-agency

LAGOS, Sept 18 (Reuters) - A tripling of the number of Nigerian HIV treatment centres in a year has enabled 135,000 infected people to get free life-saving drugs, up from 40,000 a year ago, Nigeria’s AIDS control agency said on Tuesday.

But the country’s ambitious plan to tackle HIV/AIDS failed to meet its targets last year, and the global voluntary group ActionAid has said that only 10 percent of Nigerians needing treatment are getting it.

Around 3 million of Nigeria’s 140 million people live with the deadly virus, giving the country the world’s third highest number of HIV/AIDS sufferers after India and South Africa.

"As at the end of June, we had 210 free ARV (antiretroviral) treatment centres, and we had 135,837 people on treatment across the country," Babatunde Osotimehin, director-general of the National Action Committee on AIDS, told Reuters.

The number of centres, up from 74 a year ago, includes those run by Nigeria’s development partners, he said.

A failure to meet targets, and resulting funding problems, hit Nigeria’s ambitious AIDS control plan to provide therapy for around 250,000 infected people by end-2006. The failure to meet targets on drugs access and transparency in handling donations prompted one major donor, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, to suspend two 5-year grants worth about $50 million. The suspension was later lifted.

In May, the World Bank approved $50 million in additional funding for Africa’s most populous nation to combat the spread of the deadly virus.

The funding, part of an original $90 million credit approved in 2001, was to help expand access to treatment, care, prevention and support for infected Nigerians.

Nigeria has also signed a deal with former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s AIDS charity to make cheap life-saving ARV drugs to fight the scourge.

But it is still in the process of passing a law that will allow local drugmakers to produce the medicines to fight HIV/AIDS, and malaria, another killer.

ActionAid said in May that the world would fall short of the target of providing universal access to HIV therapy by 2010, and that India, South Africa and Nigeria were high in the "AIDS league of shame."

Only 10 percent of Nigerian HIV sufferers needing treatment were getting it, the group said.

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