- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) — Nigeria plans to start the largest AIDS treatment program in Africa using cheap generic drugs on Sept. 1, a U.N. special envoy said.
The 10,000 adults and 5,000 children who will receive drug cocktails are just a tiny fraction of the more than 2.6 million Nigerians infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
But the Nigerian government's commitment demonstrates that efforts are under way within Africa to tackle the epidemic that has infected about 26.5 million people across the continent, said Stephen Lewis, special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for HIV/AIDS in Africa.
"It's a quite extraordinary intervention, a measure of the president's determination that they maintain the level of the pandemic where it is and try to turn it back," Mr. Lewis said at a news conference yesterday. "They recognize that if Nigeria fails, then much of Africa will fail."
At the first U.N. conference on AIDS last month, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo warned that "the prospect of extinction of the entire population of a continent looms larger and larger." He called for cancellation of Africa's debts and international help, but also took action himself.
Mr. Obasanjo sent his health minister to India a few weeks ago to negotiate with the pharmaceutical company Cipla Ltd., which makes generic AIDS drugs.
In February, Cipla offered to sell a three-drug AIDS cocktail to nonprofit agencies for $350 a year per African patient — provided the patients weren't charged. The company said at the time that African governments could purchase the same drugs for $600 per patient.

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