Nigeria charges AIDS sufferers for drugs donors provide free

Nigeria is charging AIDS sufferers for drugs it gets free from donors, leading many patients to break off treatment due to the high cost, aid workers said Tuesday. French aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said at a press conference Tuesday that a high proportion of people taking AIDS drugs, known as anti-retrovirals, interrupt their treatment due to high costs, and may be developing resistance to the most common drugs.

The Nigerian government argues it need to charge for drugs to cover distribution costs and to put aside funds in case donor money dries up. However, Medecins Sans Frontieres and others say the risks of charging for AIDS drugs far outweigh any potential benefits. The Nigerian health minister was not immediately available for comment on the MSF statement Tuesday.

Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa's most populous nation, has the world's third-highest population of AIDS sufferers, after South Africa and India. Out of the officially estimated 3.6 million people in Nigeria infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, only 30,000 are on treatment. Drug resistance could make the fight against AIDS much harder.

Doctors Without Borders studied 122 people who came to its AIDS clinic in Lagos after following anti-retroviral treatment at other hospitals and found 72 percent of them had stopped taking drugs under their earlier programs.

Most of them interrupted their treatment because the drugs were proving too expensive, while many others stopped because government hospitals temporarily ran out of stocks of anti-retrovirals, said researcher Jens Wenkel.

Further studies are under way by other researchers to get a better idea of how serious a problem drug resistance is. Most Nigerians on anti-retroviral programs are treated at hospitals run by the central government, which charges patients the equivalent of just over US$7 a month for the drugs, in addition to costs for diagnostic tests, reports the AP. N.U.

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