NIGERIA HIV/AIDS NEWS
For people living with HIV/AIDS, a fresh hope
April 13, 2006 :: Agha Ibiam,Lagos Thisday
In the past, the exorbitant cost of drugs and their non-availability have been the nightmare of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country despite efforts by government to make them available. However, with the massive production of the anti-retroviral drugs by some local firms, it appears there is fresh hope in the air.
Initially, treatment of HIV/AIDS was very grim especially in the developing worlds. But with the current production of so many anti-retroviral drugs (ARDs) now, hope seems to have been rising for people living with HIV/AIDS. Also, with the local manufacturing of ARDs by many pharmaceutical companies, including Archy Pharmaceuticals Nigeria Limited, which has further assuaged the problems of those living with the disease. The organisation since 1999 had the concept of establishing a plant that will produce anti-retroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, but the idea did not come into reality until 2004 when late Mrs. Stella Obasanjo commissioned the factory in Lagos.
Not only had that, the thought of producing a drug that will be readily available and affordable in Nigeria which was long incubated, launched it first ARDs product known as Archivir recently. The product is a fixed dose of three-in-one, anti-retroviral drug for the treatment of HIVAIDS.
The product, launched at the Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Lagos, was followed with a lot of lectures. Two distinguished lecturers, Prof. John Idoko, University of Jos Teaching Hospital, spoke on Nigeria HIV/AIDS pandemic and need for a massive scale up of anti-retroviral therapy. While Dr. Ernest Ekong of PEPFAR Nigeria, did justice to the lecture and spoke on HIV/AIDS treatment and drug compliance.
It is believed that what Archy has done by coming out with a three-in-one drug to fight the deadly disease, is to add the very strong weapon in collection of arms in fighting HIV in Nigeria. The Minister for Health, Prof. Eyitayo Lambo said, he was delighted to Achy for two major reasons.
One was that the company has joined the ranks of the few pharmaceutical companies that are involved in the local production of ARVs which will bring relief and succor to PLWHA. Secondly, for the company to have achieved the feat within relatively short existence, has made them to become a partner in fulfilling the vision of government to improve local capability in drug manufacture as a way to making the country self sufficient in essential drug needs.
The event, the minister said, was also in tandem with the vision of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration that places emphasis on increasing local production of goods and services. "As you are aware, Mr. President has translated this vision into practical and tangible support through provision of generous incentives as reflected in 2005 fiscal policy that provides 0 per cent duty on ARVs and finished products on pharmaceutical raw materials", he said.
Government, Lambo said, is scaling up the national ART programme to cover 250,000 PLWHA and who may require ARVs. The target is expected to cover all interventions both from governments, partners and the private sector.
He believed that increasing local production of essential drugs will improve access to good quality essential drugs, while it will also assist the government in war against fake and adulterated drugs. He noted that with intensification of the tempo of regulation and enforcement by NAFDAC and with increased availability of locally manufactured good quality, safe, efficacious and affordable drugs, and greater success in the war against drugs faking is expected.
According to the Managing Director/CEO, Archy Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Emma Ebere, what the organisation has done is what medical doctors who are in the battle against HIV/AIDS have been looking towards to. Archivir the MD said, is a drug that is affordable, available and effective, which will restore the hope of those living with HIV/AIDS, reduce the viral load and help keep the patients and also re-creates his/her immunity status. In his view, Dr. Ebere stated that there were a lot of struggles, personal sacrifices that went into local manufacturing of the product.
Nobody, he noted, could have ever thought there would be any Pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria that was capable of producing ARDs. But Archy's interest in going into the production of the drug was mostly propelled by Obasanjo's directive and a target set to meet 70 per cent of the nation's drug needs.
But when the HIV/AIDS pandemic became a serious problem, the target for Archy, the MD said became more pronounced that the only way out is to commence production of ARDs that will be available and affordable to people.
He reminded that before now, the cost of an average treatment of HIV/AIDS was beyond the reach of a common man. Therefore, the issue of production he said was not a child of circumstance but borne out of proper planning that was much envisaged and worked out towards its achievement.
Now the drug is locally manufactured, Ebere believed that patients will not have to pay that much any longer. It is expected to reduce the cost of treatment from N20, 000 to N5, 000 monthly.
"Archivir will reduce the cost and make the dosage convenient. Instead of taken six in a day, patients will just have to take two pills. So, compliance has become better and cost has become affordable because it is manufactured locally. Imported drugs are very expensive and that is why the President gave us the task to start local production", he said.
Dr. Tony Ihenatu, Chairman, Board of Directors, Archy Pharmaceutical, explained that the organisation was not moved by profitability into the production of achivir drug. Instead, he maintained that if there was any factor that compelled them mostly, was however, based on humanitarian ground.
He said their marketing emphasis has been with the non-governmental organisations as part of their contributions in the fight against HIV/AIDS. "We are not driven by profit, but by humanitarian efforts. We will also organise lectures for health professionals in some teaching hospitals to create awareness and dissemination of information on the latest treatment of HIV/AIDS", the chairman said.
However, the major impediment that may hamper the production of some essential drugs in the country is that of energy. He said the lack of energy is eating deeply into the resources of manufacturers. Another major handicap is how to source the active pharmaceutical ingredients used in the production of ARDs, which is currently being imported.