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Politics, lack of funding hindering search for COVID-19 cure, says former NIMR DG

Continued insufficient investment in scientific research and development may limit Nigeria’s efforts in finding a cure or vaccine for COVID-19, according to Innocent Ujah, a former director general, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR).

Ujah, who appeared on Sunrise DailyChannels Television’s breakfast show, via Skype, said politics and underfunding bedevilling research efforts in Nigeria are reasons why little progress has been made so far in finding cure for COVID-19 and other preventable tropical diseases tormenting the people.

“The issue and remedy of COVID-19 is on the front burner but unfortunately, the information that I have is that NIMR, as the foremost health research institute in Nigeria, is probably not involved,” Ujah said during the programme monitored by BusinessDay.

“Nigeria does not value health research, in fact, any sort of research at all, that is why there is no funding for it. If we did, by now we should have been able to characterise the disease, know who is involved, how are they involved and what were the pathology. And also, the finding would have been published either in local journals or international ones,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a serious challenge to the global economy, pushing countries to desperately carry out researches to find a cure and effective treatment for the disease.

On Tuesday, at the unveiling of the THISDAY Dome Testing, Tracing, and Treatment Centre in Abuja, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) disclosed that it was developing a framework under which grants and long-term facilities would be provided to researchers, science institutions and biotechnology firms to develop a local vaccine.

Ujah noted that the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Nigeria was effectively controlled due to effective unity of command, coordinating mechanism under the Ministry of Health and commitment from health workers. But when COVID-19 came, everyone thought that it would go away like Ebola.

“At that time over 450 Nigerians were trained and sent to African countries like Sierra Leone and Guinea to help contain Ebola, but where are they in this COVID response? I need to know. These people are the ones that you need to activate and bring in new people. Science drives development,” hsaid.

When it comes to innovation, Nigeria, being the largest economy in Africa, seems to be left behind. According to a 2019 Bloomberg Innovation Index, the country did not make the list of top 60 most innovative countries in the world, but South Africa (SA) and Tunisia did.

Countries around the world are relying more on their local sources to fight COVID-19 than looking on to the rest of the world for innovative solutions which could constitute a setback. For example, Madagascar has invented the use of the herbal remedy to treat COVID-19 patients.

South Africa’s fight has invested in serological assessment, with a lot of efforts in developing the antibodies to be able to support a vaccine development.

“This is the time where NIMR will be very vital. We have the local talent and expertise in Nigeria. We need to up our game by involving scientists, experts and health facilities to come and put heads together. This will probably work for Nigeria,” Ujah said.

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