A Nigerian born medical researcher says Nigeria needs to expand its medical infrastructure - and import more medications – if it is to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
After returning from a one-month tour of Nigeria, Dr. Vincent Idemyor describes the HIV/AIDS situation there as “grim.” He says in the 15 to 49 age group, one in fifteen people are infected with the AIDS virus. Dr. Idemyor is director of the department of Pharmaceutical Services at Advocate Bethany Hospital in Chicago – and is also on the faculty at the Illinois College of Medicine.
He says while developed nations have use of all the available HIV fighting medicines, Nigeria is limited to just a few.
"In the West there are sixteen medications of different combinations. In Nigeria – based on what I saw and people I talked to – they have about four or five. The purpose of having more medications – having sixteen instead of four or five – is that it gives you an opportunity to manage patients appropriately. In that if the patient cannot tolerate one particular set you can always them to another set," he says.
The clinical pharmacologist says a patient may build up a resistance to anti-retroviral drugs within two years. If that happens, doctors can vary the combination of drugs to overcome that resistance. The more drugs that are available, the greater the possibilities of combinations.
He says, "In the US, we can routine extend someone’s life – possibly indefinitely – because of these medications. But with just four or five medications in Nigeria it’s not going to be possible for us to extend peoples’ lives indefinitely."
He also says Nigeria’s medical infrastructure does not extend far enough.
"These centers where these drugs are delivered are mostly in the cities, where they have the health care professionals and a few things are in place. The big cities. In the local areas you’re not going to see that, which means there’s a need then to extend some of those things that have been done in the big cities into the small towns so that the people have access to the medications," he says.
He says three things are needed to fight the HIV/AIDS problem in Nigeria.
"We must put AIDS on the political agenda in Nigeria. They have elections next year. So that should be on the political agenda. Then also, there must be donations. Nations and corporations must make HIV/AIDS donations. So that if these donations are available then it will be easier to put infrastructure in place and make these medications available to those who actually need them."
Many of those donations, he says, should come from the multi-national petroleum companies doing business in Nigeria.
Dr. Idemyor uses an old African proverb describe the need to act. It says: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”