We applaud the Federal Government for shortlisting 19 indigenous Nigerian firms for the screening of their claims of discovering a cure, a therapy or a vaccine for the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Many might ridicule the audacity and think the ambition is delusional, but it is an act that is overdue, if only to express our own confidence in our scientists, doctors and experts. The great expertise of our doctors and experts has hitherto shone only abroad from which we read some of their great accomplishments like fairy tales.
Their enterprise and diligence have brought glory and fame to the organisations they work for. We have more oncologists and neurosurgeons abroad than at home. Our nuclear physicists have no jobs at home to occupy them. Their skills and talents cannot shine in our country given our infrastructural shortcomings and severe lack of investments in those fields.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the newest global leveller. It is no respecter of a segregated world of ‘First World’ and ‘Third World.’ It makes no distinction between the ‘Developed World’ and the ‘Developing World.’ It is not more lenient to ‘wealthy nations’ than the ‘wretched of the earth.’ It has grounded the “jet-set” of the world, who literally live their lives in jet planes. It has abbreviated the pleasure of the contented affluent class, which spends much time traveling all over the world in luxury cruise ships and yachts.
After nearly six months of its destructive existence, the virus has not been confronted with a cure, a therapy or a vaccine. It has been more lenient with nations with focused leadership, great organisational skills, Spartan discipline, which explains the contrast in the fatalities in South Korea and the United States, both nations having recorded their first coronavirus cases one day apart. Africa’s low fatalities is said to be part of the dividends of the youthfulness of its population.
Thus, finding a cure for COVID-19 presents the countries of the world something nearest to an equal opportunity to save the world, to heal the sick, to make a breakthrough in medicine that would have worldwide impact. The African nation on the Indian Ocean, Madagascar, has jumped on it and offered the world its own therapy. The scramble for the invention of the vaccine is fiercer than the American gold rush.
Madagascar’s offer seems to have fallen down at the usual altar, where most African efforts tend to fall, the altar of medicine without “science.” It has been the nemesis of Africa’s offers. And the most charitable score for medicine without science is that it is just a little shade higher than divination. The world may still have a fascination for divination but after hundreds of years of medical science, the world can no longer embrace divination. And it is our hope that the 19 Nigerian firms bear this stumbling block in mind. We are happy that many of the individuals involved include well-known scientists, like Dr. Maurice Iwu, who is a distinguished expert in the field.
We also acknowledge the peculiar challenges posed by ‘presentation’ of African medicines and therapies. No one who has ever gone through the ‘steam’ therapy for malaria would ever doubt its efficacy. But it looks tedious presenting a therapy like that to the world that is used to delicate packaging. It would take quite some art to package dogonyaro leaves and stalk, pawpaw leaves, mango leaves, lemon grass, and so on, which need to be cooked and subsequently steamed as the patient goes through what some may consider an ordeal under steam and under a blanket. This is not to say that it is impossible but it may not be economical when compared to the N600 Chinese malaria tablets.
We urge our scientists to view this as a unique opportunity to shine. A successful therapy would reap billions without question in a matter of months; a successful vaccine would transform Nigeria’s pharmaceutical industry. We are hoping that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) should help the firms, making sure that the science is not compromised.
We also think that the scientists at the Federal Ministry of Health, medical research institutes all over the country, should be willing to be of assistance. The screening exercise would widen the frontiers of indigenous pharmaceutical companies and push the frontiers in drug research and manufacturing, a field in which we seem wholly absent.