Free comprehensive care for HIV treatment must be provided to Nigerians

MSF calls for increased commitment in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Since 2003, Medecins Sans Frontieres has been providing free anti-retroviral treatment and comprehensive care to HIV patients at the General Hospital Lagos (GHL). As of September 2007, over 1,300 patients were registered for treatment at GHL through MSF's program. In October 2007, MSF started to handover uncomplicated cases of HIV patients to the GHL. MSF also operates Port Harcourt's Teme hospital, opened in 2005 to provide accessible emergency services and surgery for people who otherwise may not be able to afford health care. Lagos - On the occasion of this year's World AIDS Day on December 1, the international medical humanitarian organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) calls for increased commitment from all health care providers in Nigeria to provide comprehensive care to HIV/AIDS patients. While the government's response to the pandemic has improved since it started providing free drug treatment nationwide in 2006, the level of medical services available and accessible by people living with HIV/AIDS is still dramatically inadequate. The Nigerian Ministry of Health should also improve their leadership in order to provide wider and more adequate treatment solutions. Although the national treatment programs, started in 2001, half of all patients still do not have access to life-saving treatment. According to the Nigerian National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS (NACA), it was estimated that 500,000 people would need treatment in Nigeria by December 2005, but as of June 2007 only 170,000 people are on treatment nationwide. The current treatment services available in the country must include a free comprehensive treatment program. Comprehensive HIV/AIDS program include continuous psychosocial support for the patients, education on how to adhere to the treatment, nutritional support, treatment of opportunistic infections, a constant monitoring of treatment progression/failure as well as adapted treatment protocols for specific patient groups such as children, tuberculosis co-infected patients or pregnant women. As MSF Head of mission Ton Berg explains: "While we acknowledge that anti-retroviral drugs are now free in treatment centers nationwide, the very few opportunistic infections drugs where available are inadequate to meet the needs of patients. The treatment of opportunistic infections is an integral part of comprehensive treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and is critical to the success of any HIV/AIDS care and support programme." Treatment centres must also be decentralized, to be made available to as many patients as possible, with appropriate and well-trained human resources. Adequate numbers of qualified health care workers are still grossly lacking in most treatment centers across the country. In many instances, this has lead to patients spending almost entire days in clinics awaiting treatment.