Thursday, January 18, 2007

Nigerian Law to Increase Local Production of Essential Medicines

Nigeria is about to pass a law to allow local manufacturers to produce drugs to treat malaria and HIV/AIDS, two of Nigeria's most deadly diseases, according to a recent Reuters report.

According to the report, current production levels of necessary drug treatments are insufficient. At present, 14 companies in Nigeria are producing anti-retroviral (ARVs) for the treatment of HIV/AIDS and 8 are producing artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) for the treatment of malaria. At the current levels of production, local companies are able to meet only 30% of the demand for malaria drugs, the rest being supplied by imports from China. Artemisinin (chemical formula at right) is extracted from Artemesia annua, mostly grown in China, but Chinese experts are advising programmes to grow the plant in Nigeria to meet higher production levels.

Ahmed Abdulkadir, special adviser to the Nigerian president, heads a taskforce to produce the essential medicines. In an interview with Reuters, during an anti-malaria conference in China, Abdulkadir said, "We will try to have the legislation passed. We've done all administrative work, it's at the final stage." He said further, "We will dismantle all those barriers so that our local industries are able to produce all of these drugs," explaining that local drug companies were preparing for increased production levels following the passage of the new law. As well as lessening the need for imports, Abdulkadir explains that the law would allow Nigeria to supply west and central Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that between 300 and 500 million people contract malaria every year (map at right), with over a million fatalities (1 person every 30 seconds). The vast majority of these deaths (90%) occur in Africa, and most of the victims are children.

The WHO also reports that there were 4.3 million new infections of HIV/AIDS in 2006, with 2.8 million (68%) occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2006, 2.9 million people died from AIDS related illnesses. In Nigeria, largely due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, there has been a decrease in average life expectancy since 1991, to just 45/46 years (m/f).

Aldulkadir says that the WHO (of which Nigeria became a member in 1960) insists developing countries are given access to these essential medicines, "and that is what we are trying to make sure we have."

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