• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Low research volume, investment worsen Nigeria’s healthcare outcomes

Nigeria’s low volume and poor investments in medical research are worsening healthcare outcomes in the country, the Scientific Products Association of Nigeria (SPAN) has cautioned.

According to them, the country’s poor research is worsening patients’ risk of death, leading to waste of high out-of-pocket health expenditure on treatments that are not configured to solve the illnesses of many.

Due to the paucity of clinical trials, barely a few of the drugs administered to patients are optimized for their molecular and genetic needs, exposing them to treatments that may not have the expected efficacy that was proven in the populations in which the drugs and medicine were originally trialed.

The imbalance means that Nigeria lacks evidence-based local data and faces limited progress in understanding the genetic features of its people, according to most clinical trial experts.

The result is the broad-scale exploitation of vulnerable patients who have no alternatives but to use these treatments. Diseases that unduly affect Nigerians, in the long run, risk being neglected.

“Science is now done on the genetic level and if you are not doing research in your country where you are using your gene pool to discover products and solutions, and services for your people, then you will waste all your money and still not get the results you are looking for,” Kate Isa, SPAN president and chief executive officer of Katchey Group said during a conference on the relevance of science.

“That is why it is important we focus on science. We are constantly managing products made for other places that don’t work well here.”

The president charged the federal government to declare a national emergency in the field of scientific research over the sustained lack of modern innovations that provide practical solutions resulting in improved health outcomes for the country’s patient population.

She said Nigeria needs innovators, inventors, and scientists trained to empower secondary schools and universities with the skills to produce health solutions specific to Nigerians.

Isa called for an urgent upgrade of the education curriculum at all levels of education from analog to digital, noting that digital science laboratory equipment is more cost-effective than analog equipment.

“So why are we not doing it? The global 21st-century science education offers a complete solution to increase science literacy with opportunities to explore real-life phenomena while developing the concept and applying science, technology, engineering practices, and product development,” she explained.

BusinessDay findings show that South Africa (10.3/1,769), Kenya (5.3/1,092), and Egypt (4.5/774) are ahead of Nigeria (4.2/522) by the number of health researchers per capita and the number of patents filed.

South Africa has the highest research and development (R&D) expenditure as a share of gross domestic products in Africa at 0.85 percent in 2022, with its spending focused on health, energy, and information technology, data from the World Bank, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization shows.

Kenya’s R&D expenditure is also relatively high at 0.7 percent of GDP in 2022 while Egypt’s R&D expenditure is 0.6 percent of GDP in 2022. Nigeria’s R&D expenditure is 0.5 percent of GDP in 2022.

Clinical trials are the mainstay in the new drug development processes. Though the African continent represents 15 percent of the world’s population, it faces an overwhelming global disease burden of 25 percent, with Nigeria carrying a substantial part of it.

The low clinical volume ensures that almost no drug development and little pharmaceutical research takes place on the continent.

According to the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, less than three percent of all trials conducted globally have taken place in Africa – the majority in South Africa and Egypt.

Global research priorities have been driven by donors and research institutions from the Global North for decades, which do not mostly reflect the realities or needs of Africans and their research institutions.

The ACDC worries that investments in research don’t always sustain the essential capabilities that they build, and a lack of coordination across the ecosystem means that critical talent is not always well-nurtured or retained on the continent.

As part of its contribution to the advocacy of science funding, SPAN has canvassed for a transition from traditional lecture-focused instruction to empirical-based teaching and learning to make science relevant in Nigerian.

It also charged policymakers and relevant stakeholders to ensure that scientific research institutes are adequately staffed and equipped and are focused on research areas that are useful and relevant to the needs of Nigerians and Africans, which can also be commercialised.

Members of the association are also exploring low-hanging fruits such as the manufacturing of laboratory equipment that they imported in the past, in collaboration with manufacturing partners interested in locating here in Nigeria.

According to the president, SPAN is also looking at identifying opportunities to bring people together to work on finding solutions and discovering products for Nigerians.

“The major problem we have in Nigeria is that we climb the tree from the top. Everything boils down to funding and starting from the foundation,” Oladapo Sonola, SPAN vice president, said.

“Span will work on empowerment. We alone cannot do it. Make no mistake. Don’t try to go to any of our schools, you will weep. That is where we have to start.”