Nigeria to enact law to back malaria, HIV drugs

Tan Ee Lyn | 17 Jan 2007
Reuters

Nigeria is in the final stages of passing a law that will allow local drugmakers to produce more life-saving medicines for its people to fight malaria and HIV/AIDS, a top official said.

The country has 14 companies making anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to control HIV/AIDS and eight companies producing artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) to treat malaria, but production levels are far from sufficient.

"We will try to have the legislation passed. We've done all administrative work, it's at the final stage. We will send it to the national assembly so it can be passed," Ahmed Abdulkadir, special adviser to the Nigerian president, told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of an anti-malaria conference in China's southern Guangzhou city.

"We will dismantle all those barriers so that our local industries are able to produce all of these drugs, all ACTs and all ARVs," said Abdulkadir, who heads a taskforce to produce the drugs.

Malaria and HIV/AIDS are among Nigeria's deadliest diseases but local production of drugs to combat them do not meet demand.

Between 2.5 million and 3 million people in Nigeria live with HIV/AIDS.

One of the world's oldest diseases, malaria, strikes between 300 million and 500 million people a year, and kills more than a million of them, or one person every 30 seconds, according to the World Health Organisation. Ninety percent of the deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

"The WHO insists that countries in the third world are given access to produce (life-saving drugs) and that is what we are trying to make sure we have," Abdulkadir said.

"So that eventually anybody who talks about patency, to hell with it, the most important thing is to have the drugs produced to save lives first," he said.

DRUG INDUSTRY BOOM

Abdulkadir said Nigerian companies were braced to ramp up production once the law was passed.

Nigeria needs 109 million doses of ACTs each year to treat malaria. A dose is equivalent to a standard three-day course. But local companies are able to meet only 30 percent of that demand and the rest is met by imports from China.

"We are trying to get more machinery to produce more," he said. "We don't want to be an importing nation we want to be producing en masse and also supplying west and central Africa."

The active ingredient in ACTs is artemisinin, a compound extracted from the sweet wormwood herb Artemisia annua, that is mostly grown in China.

A programme to grow the shrub in Nigeria is well underway, Abdulkadir said.

"I have got about 3,000 hectares of land in three different locations. We are doing the tissue culture for the seeds. As soon as we finish the tissue culture, hopefully in the next month or two, we'll (sow them) before the rainfall," he said.

Chinese experts are advising Nigeria on cultivating the plant, considered by doctors an effective cure for malaria.

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