Nigeria needs to encourage its "pharmacists to look into local production of HIV drugs in order to enhance their availability and reduce the cost," an assistant of President Goodluck Jonathan said Thursday.
Precious Gbenero, the president's special assistant on Millennium Development Goals, told Daily Trust, "If the drugs are readily available, it will reduce the number of people dying from HIV and patients on drugs will have a reduced rate of infecting their partners."
Her comments came on the sidelines of the Pharmacy Week organised by the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, (PSN) Abuja chapter.
PSN has welcomed the call, insisting its professionals were being sidelined in general health and warning that the country was unlikely to achieve MDG targets without recognising the potential of pharmacists.
The Week focused on improving pharmaceutical services to help attain the three health-specific goals, said PSN chairman Superior Atumen.
But Otive Ibuzor, president of Institute of Management of Nigeria and a former country director for the international group ActionAid, warned that many "low-cost and proven interventions" that could be beneficial were being ignored.
Major interventions are drugs like mesoprostol--a drug to prevent bleeding after birth--and magnesium-based medications to treat eclampsia.
Both conditions account for many deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, and eclampsia alone is thought responsible for up to 70% of maternal deaths at a major hospital in the far north of the country, observed Ibuzor.
The drugs are being pushed by local pharmaceutical companies but face resistance in lack of knowledge and cooperation even among health workers, he noted.
He urged federal, state and local governments to use the services of pharmacists, insisting the "expertise and competence of pharmacists is not being utilised in full in industry, in academia and in community practice."
In remarks at the Week, Gbenero, represented by Dr Christopher Otabor, said there was a "great role for pharmacists" to help Nigeria attain goals in reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and cutting down the burden of HIV, TB and malaria.
The Millennium Development Goals office currently gets N1 billion in yearly special funding to coordinate programmes to help the country achieve its MDG targets.
Three major targets specifically related to health are to reduce infant mortality, improve maternal health and cut the country's burden of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.
"Reversing the trend of HIV and other related diseases [tuberculosis and malaria] is a clear goal" of the MDG office, she told Daily Trust in an interview.
She insisted sourcing HIV drugs through imports presented problems and that local production would create jobs and ensure the quality of drugs dispensed to patients.