News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

Nigeria promises free antiretroviral drugs to HIV positive soldiers

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 13 April 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:870
  1. Abiodun Raufu
  1. Lagos

    Nigeria is soon to begin free distribution of antiretroviral drugs to its HIV positive soldiers. Announcing the plan, Nigeria's defence minister, retired general Theophilus Danjuma, said it was imperative for the Nigerian military to do everything it could to prevent the rise in HIV cases among the soldiers.

    “Unless this is done, you have an army, navy, and air force that are invalids,” he warned. He said that many of the soldiers contracted HIV during peacekeeping missions in countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.

    “These soldiers were deployed to operational areas and they were there for a long time without their wives,” he said.

    The plan has a supporter in Professor Idris Mohammed, chairman of the national immunisation programme, who said: “The same conscientious treatment given to military personnel injured during a war must be made available to such personnel should they be infected by this dangerous virus.”

    “This is an absolute right that requires no debate, as these personnel are constantly exposed while on active service for the nation.”

    It is generally believed that a major reason why HIV has spread so fast in the Nigerian military is that Nigerian soldiers are often forced to spend two to three years away from home on peacekeeping operations instead of the normal six month tour of duty.

    Although the Nigerian military has not introduced compulsory testing, the authorities routinely test soldiers who go on duty overseas.

    “The Nigerian military authorities are to blame for the situation, because apart from poor funding and a lukewarm attitude to the AIDS problem, they have created the problem by allowing our soldiers to overstay in peacekeeping operations,” retired air vice marshal Ahmed Rufai said.

    “How can you prevent such soldiers from indulging in sexual intercourse if they have stayed away from their partners for that long? That is why the policy of rotation, which was introduced from the beginning, should be adhered to, at least for the family's sake.”

    According to the 2001 sentinel survey of HIV and syphilis prevalence in Nigeria, just over three million Nigerians have HIV. The military is considered to be a high risk group, but no one really knows how many of Nigeria's 100 000 military personnel have HIV or AIDS. “The enormity of the problem of AIDS dawned on the government when it was discovered that some Nigerian troops, who had returned recently from Sierra Leone, tested positive for HIV infection,” Nigeria's vice president, Abubakar Atiku, said.

    The Nigerian government plans to provide the free antiretroviral drugs to HIV positive soldiers from the consignment of about US$3.7m (£2.6m; €4.2m) worth of generic antiretroviral drugs it recently bought from India to supply at a subsidised price to people with HIV.

    Ten thousand adults and 5000 children with HIV are to benefit from the antiretroviral drugs when the programme starts. A month's treatment would normally cost $350, which is beyond the means of many people with HIV or their families.

    But Nigeria's health minister, Professor Alphonsus Nwosu, said: “The entire dosage for the whole year would cost $350 per person. But in addition to this subsidy we got from India, the Nigerian government has approved another local subsidy.

    “The Nigerian government will subsidise the drugs and will therefore not charge more than $7.50 for a month's treatment, or $90 a year.”