By Gabriel Olawale & Gloria Orogun
LAGOS— No fewer than 2.3 million Nigerians living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus are not on any form of treatment, even as health experts have raised alarm over the growing incidence of resistance to anti-retroviral drugs in the country.
Disclosing this, yesterday in Lagos, a professor of Haematology and Transfusion Medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Professor Suleiman Akanmu, said only 900 persons living with HIV in the country were currently on a treatment programme as against the estimated total number of 3.2 million persons nationwide.
Akanmu, who is also the Chairman, National Task Team on Antiretroviral Therapy, ART, in Nigeria, spoke during a joint stakeholders’ summit with the theme: “Drug Resistance Monitoring, Early Infant Diagnosis and Viral Load” organised by World Health Organisation, WHO, blamed the development on the inability to carry out routine viral load test, as well as unavailability of second and third line drugs to treat HIV.
“Many of our patients who are on first line drugs are failing and they are suppose to be put on second line drugs which is not available now. As a country, we are not detecting failure on time. If you have about 900,000 Nigerians on first line drugs, we do not know how many of them have failed the first line regimen because we do not routinely carry out viral load test to show that while on drugs, the virus is still detectable in them.”
“If we have facilities in Nigeria where people can easily do viral load test, then we would be able to detect first line failure and be talking about putting them on second line regimen,” he said.
He called for more research and support for laboratories in the country to effectively carry out viral load test and when detected there should be enough drugs to put them on second line regimen.
He said: “Research is key, in other parts of the world, before you put a patient on ART, they normally do drug resistance testing to know what type of drug the individual is sensitive to before applying the drugs, but that is not feasible in our situation.
“If we are going to prevent viral resistance from evolving, then we must ensure that the virus does not replicate, because the resistance is coming from the ability of the virus to replicate, so we must administer drugs that do not allow the virus to replicate itself.”