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Madagascar’s COVID Organics: A miracle product?

At last, it appears that something good has come out of Africa. It is a herbal product called COVID Organics. With respect to COVID Organics, some say that Africa’s light is shining due to luck. Irrespective of views on the herbal drink, all we know is that Madagascar has refused to be intimidated by its small size and backwardness.

Madagascar, a tiny African country has developed COVID Organics from its natural resources in response to the rampaging coronavirus that has claimed more than three hundred thousand lives worldwide with millions infected. Currently, the herbal product is controversial because the World Health Organization (WHO), European and American pharmaceuticals, have not accepted COVID Organics as a cure for the pandemic. In response to the scepticism with which WHO and others are treating the COVID Organics, Andry Rajoelina, the President of Madagascar, says “No country will keep us from going forward.”

Andry Rajoelina, is so proud of the “efficacy” of the product that he was seen drinking the herbal product in the media. The herbal remedy, according to reports, is being handed out free of charge in the country’s streets and schools despite questions surrounding the “miracle remedy”. Anyway, Madagascar is recommending the herbal drink to other African countries as a cure against the virus attack.

Nigeria, and a few other African countries, have taken delivery of consignments of the drug. But the authorities in Nigeria have stated that all herbal or traditional medicines should be sent to all statutory regulatory bodies for thorough scientific verification. This to my mind is the right thing to do.

Due to the need to be scientific in solving societal problems, governments in most developing countries including Nigeria have invested so much in establishing Research and Development (R&D) institutions for many decades. They have also, formulated policies to guide their investments in R&D so that expected benefits are not too far from the actual.

Our researchers are working and one must commend their efforts. But you will find out that most of our research findings are virtually in the laboratories. It takes more than scientific research to get a product to an innovation stage

Today, Nigeria has more than 30 research institutes all of which are funded by the Federal Government. In addition, the nation has more than 100 universities, all of which offers courses in sciences and some of them in different engineering fields. Some of the universities are even designated as university of technology. Although, the literacy rate in Nigeria is still low relatively, some public affairs analysts are of the view that there is no country in Africa or in the Middle East or anywhere outside the developed nations of the world that has the broad base of educated leadership in business, in the universities ….that Nigeria has.

Without any iota of doubt, all our efforts give an impression that our nation is aware of the importance of science and technology in national development. The question we should ask is this: Why was Madagascar with barely six universities and one research institution able to produce and launch into market the COVID Organic, when Nigeria is still carrying out tests of some drugs? The solution is in a process persuaded by the ideas of men with energy and commitment. And the source of high-risk capital married together in a haphazard manner to produce the consequential “miracle remedy” within the Madagascar economy.

In the case of Nigeria, it was 45 years ago, that the first science and technology policy was formulated. Since then the concern of experts and policy analysts is that not much has been achieved despite Nigerian government’s investment in R&D. With investment in R&D, the expectation is that it would make the country break out of recessionary cycles, enhance international competitiveness, contribute to and in some instances, drive economic growth and a means of generating jobs which should be the concern of any caring government. But these aspirations are only on paper, as much has not been achieved.

The above stated expectations have been elusive, though some scientists say the funding of research institutes in Nigeria is very poor. But why has the expectations been elusive? Science has remained a consumption item in Nigeria rather than an investment item since it has not brought any significant impact on the economic development of the country. Science as it were has not been able to give birth to the much-needed development and the promised eventual liberation from poverty.

Our researchers are working and one must commend their efforts. But you will find out that most of our research findings are virtually in the laboratories. It takes more than scientific research to get a product to an innovation stage. Innovation is achieved only when a new product or an improved product reaches the market stage while the extent of its impact on the economy depends on the degree and rate of its diffusion. Apart from the quality of researchers; vibrancy of the capital goods sector; and a significant level of foreign direct investments; a suitable business environment is one of the critical factors influencing the extent to which scientific inventions reach the innovation stage and rate of adoption by other firms in the country.

The market has a role to play in the innovation process. It is only when a product is in the market that it is considered an innovation. And it is the market, based on the forces of demand and supply that will determine whether the product will remain or not.

So now that COVID Organics has entered into the African market, can we say it is an innovation. The herbal drink is in the market to compete with other yet-to-be approved drugs for the treatment of the coronavirus. It is the market that will determine the acceptability or otherwise of the herbal drink.

As part of the controversies, there are reports that some African countries have expressed their intentions to conduct a scientific test of the herbal drink in order to confirm its effectiveness. These countries, argue that it is likely that the herbal drink may harm the health of their people, particularly that of children. It is equally possible that those who consume the herbal drink may not have health complications arising for the use of the herbal drink.

But why has Nigeria not produced a drug or vaccine to combat the dreaded Coronavirus despite her abundant mineral, agricultural and forest resources? Some economists say it is because our economy does not react to policy stimulus. Even before the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020, Nigeria’s economy was hovering around 2.2 percent growth since 2016. This sluggish growth in the midst of abundant resources calls for concern.

There is concern because despite CBN’s banned importation of 41 items in 2016 and supply of US dollars to the market to strengthen the Naira, the country has not seen any appreciable growth. Now that most developed economies are in recession, one only hopes that Nigeria’s economy will not remain inert for many years to come as there is dwindling foreign exchange earnings from the export of crude oil to support importation.

In spite of the risks and costs of innovation and the uncertainty of its diffusion, if one looks at innovations generally, we will observe that they are not necessarily the result of formal applications of applied science alone but sometimes the product of inspired amateurs, great determination, intense curiosity, quick wits, clever fingers, luck, capital and a backer to survive the period of experimenting, testing, improving which are as important as scientific training.

As Nigeria continues searching for an herbal remedy or orthodox drugs to treat COVID-19 patients, Madagascar’s herbal drink ought to motivate and spur our scientists to continue their efforts in coming up with a globally accepted drug that will prevent and cure the pandemic. We appreciate the efforts of our scientists, but as the saying goes, there is always room for improvement.

Bearing in mind current economic realities of the country, one would be waiting to see how funding of research institutions in Nigeria would be improved. And when the upgrade of physical and social infrastructure would impact the economy positively because of the complex interactions among scientific research, technology, industry and the society. A multidisciplinary approach is always better in solving problems of any society. Thank you!

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