Wednesday October 3, 2001

Nigeria to Set Up Agency to Lead War on AIDS


ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has approved the setting up of an agency to coordinate government efforts to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS in his country, officials said on Wednesday.

``The draft bill for this agency will be forwarded to the National Assembly for enactment into law,'' Information Minister Jerry Gana told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

The National Agency for the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS will centralise management of international assistance and harmonise local efforts to prevent new infections and combat the spread of the virus that causes AIDS, he said.

A 1999 health ministry study showed one in 20 Nigerian adults was infected with HIV.

Experts say the number has risen significantly since 1999 and risks growing exponentially in Africa's most populous nation of over 110 million people unless it is contained immediately.

Obasanjo has procured cheap generic virus-fighting drugs from India which were to go into use in September in Africa's biggest assault on AIDS, treating 15,000 patients in the most ambitious AIDS project in Africa.

The programme has been delayed by technical problems, officials said. No new schedule has been announced.

The government said it would subsidise treatment costs by up to 80%, leaving patients with a bill of about $7 to $8 monthly. Similar drugs currently cost Nigerian patients 30,000-40,000 naira (US$270-360) a month.