Nigeria Hosts Infectious Disease Conference This Week, Launches AIDS Action Plan
Nigeria is hosting a "major" conference this week, targeting Africa's three "biggest killers" -- HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, the Agence France-Presse reports. The four-day conference, scheduled to begin Tuesday, is sponsored by the World Health Organization and the Organization of African Unity, and attendees will include former President Bill Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (Cunliffe-Jones, Agence France-Presse, 4/22). At the close of the conference, the government plans to launch an "emergency action plan" against AIDS. Nigerian Health Minister Alphonsus Nwosu said, "Since AIDS has constituted itself to an extraordinary emergency problem, Nigeria has decided to launch an extraordinary emergency response to combat it" (Agence France-Presse, 4/22). But some health workers and administration officials are skeptical of whether the conference will yield action, based on the current state of the country's public health infrastructure. One Nigerian health worker said, "To put it plainly, we have had a lot of conferences and what they produce most is hot air and not much else. Where's the impact?" The country currently spends less than $3 per person per year on public health, and 70% of the health care budget goes towards Nigeria's "giant" teaching hospitals, "leaving little for basics such as primary health care for the population, mostly living in places remote from the main centers," according to health workers. Another health official noted, "There are a number of big public hospitals but the staff there are generally badly trained and often go on strike. Primary care barely exists. Many people cannot afford to go to doctors, and drug sellers do not know the right prescriptions or dosages to hand out. Public health education is a joke" (Agence France-Presse, 4/22).
Homegrown 'cures' Undermine AIDS Efforts
Nigeria's efforts to stem the AIDS epidemic are "being undermined by the growing number of homegrown 'cures,'" Reuters reports. The northern Kano state assembly recently passed an bill endorsing a group "claiming a spiritual cure" for AIDS, which involves "smearing honey and petroleum jelly on sufferers and reading versus of the Koran." Reuters reports that more than 60 groups in Nigeria have announced "purported cures" for AIDS, and the government has allocated about $1.7 million to test these claims. WHO's African Regional Director Dr. Ebrahim Samba said at a news conference yesterday, "This is very dangerous. There are no cures. But this isn't only a problem in Nigeria, there are claims all over Africa" (Doran, Agence France-Presse, 4/22).