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Authorities predict 250,000 people on ARVs by mid-2006

The Nigerian government has said it aims to quadruple the number of people on antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) by mid-2006, enabling up to 250,000 HIV-positive people receive the medication.

"With grants from the Global Fund, the US President's Initiative PEPFAR, the World Bank and the federal government, our projection is that we'll be able to treat 250,000 people by June 2006," Babatunde Osotimehin, the head of Nigeria's National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA), told PlusNews.

The target was first announced last week at a press conference at the end of a visit to Nigeria by Richard Feachem, the director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Nigeria had previously set a goal of providing subsidised ARV treatment to 100,000 people by the end of 2005. About 65,000 already benefit from the scheme.

Nigeria has received funding for its ambitious AIDS programme from numerous international bodies. In July 2003, the Global Fund awarded a grant of US $70 million to the government in Abuja to be paid over five years, while the United States loaned Nigeria $150 million at preferential rates and the World Bank provided a further $110 million of soft loans

Nigeria has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world after South Africa and India.

The authorities estimate that almost four million of the country's 126 million people are living with the virus.

In 1991, Africa's most populous country had an HIV prevalence rate of around two percent, but this shot up to five percent by 2003.

Last week the Nigerian Health Minister Eyitayo Lambo got approval from the cabinet to extend subsidised ARV treatment to 100,000 HIV-positive Nigerians by the end of 2005. Three years ago, the government launched the cheap treatment initiative, offering ARV drugs to 15,000 people at a discounted price.

"In addition to those 15,000 people on ARV treatment, there are now another 50,000 thanks to funds allocated by PEPFAR," Lambo was quoted as saying in the Nigerian daily, The Guardian, on Monday. "We think we will be able to treat 100,000 people by December."

However, despite these aggressive expansion plans, government officials said the country was unlikely to meet its World Health Organisation (WHO) target of putting 400,000 people on ARV treatment by the end of the year.

"This initiative seems very ambitious," NACA's Osotimehin told PlusNews. Health Minister Lambo was equally cautious, telling The Guardian: "I'm not sure that we'll make it."

This 400,000 target is part of WHO's "Three by Five" initiative which aims to put three million people in the developing world on anti-AIDS treatment by the end of 2005.

According to Pierre Mpele, the UNAIDS coordinator in Nigeria, the country's programmes to fight AIDS and malaria are way behind schedule.

"The latest loans were only signed in 2004. There's been a big delay in getting the programmes going, which is the collective responsibility of the donors and the recipients," Mpele told PlusNews.

"We're in the acceleration phase," he added. "After a period of uncertainty, the authorities have taken several decisions that makes us think the acceleration is in progress."

"Nigeria is a miniature Africa. There are 36 states, some of whom have prevalence rates touching 10 percent. And the country is ethnically and religiously complex," Mpele went on. "It's an immense task."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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