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Nigeria probes claims of local vaccine for HIV

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LAGOS, July 13 — The Nigerian government said on Thursday it had appointed a committee of experts to investigate claims by a local scientist of having found a vaccine for the HIV virus which causes AIDS.

Jeremiah Abalaka claimed earlier this year to have developed the vaccine at his clinic in the capital Abuja. Abalaka claims to be immune to HIV and has vowed to inject himself publicly with the virus to prove his case.

The National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA) said in a statement that a 14-member committee had been set up to verify the claims.

The committee was charged, among other tasks, with establishing procedures for the verification of all claims and advising the government on appropriate actions to be taken based on its findings.

"Members of the public are hereby invited to send memoranda...to facilitate the deliberations and eventual recommendations of the committee," the statement said.

Abalaka and Nigeria's health ministry are involved in a legal battle over the scientist's claim to a breakthrough.

Ministry officials want to take away samples of Abalaka's drugs for testing and he has gone to court to prevent from doing so. He wants the ministry instead to send patients to his clinic so he can administer the drugs to them there.

The controversy deepened last week after senior military officers said Abalaka's vaccine had been effective on Nigerian soldiers infected with HIV while on peacekeeping missions.

"About 30 army personnel infected with HIV were cured within five weeks after the (Abalaka's) vaccines were administered on them," the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, General Victor Malu told reporters in Lagos.

The UNICEF children's agency annual Progress of Nations report issued on Wednesday at an international AIDS conference in Durban painted a grim picture for youth in Africa, where the majority of the world's 34.5 million people infected with HIV live.

Nigerians were largely indifferent to the AIDS epidemic until the death in 1997 of the celebrated and highly promiscuous musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, of AIDS.