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Employing innovation, research to address Nigeria’s needs

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Nigeria’s healthcare system is faced with different challenges ranging from inaccessible and unaffordable care, lack of infrastructure and information technology thereby limiting efforts to meet the health needs of its teeming population

Effective health tools such as drugs, vaccines and diagnostics are fundamental to tackling the diseases that excessively affect the country. However, these tools are lacking for many endemic diseases and, where available, are often ineffective or too expensive to procure.

World Health Organisation (WHO), proffering solutions has said it is of the utmost urgency to scale up research aimed at discovering and developing new and improved tools to address these diseases. Citing that building research capability and leadership in developing countries are increasingly essential to tackling these major health issues around the continent.

To achieve this feat, WHO has set up the African Networks for Drug and Diagnostic Innovation (ANDI) with the drive to promote and support health product research and development led by African institutions for diseases of high prevalence in the continent.The expected outcome is the discovery, development and delivery of affordable new health tools including those based on traditional medicine, as well as the development of capacity and establishment of centres of research excellence.

ANDI, centre of excellence for malaria diagnosis is an International Centre for Malaria Microscopy and Malaria Rapid Diagnosis Tests (RDTs) quality assurance centre.

Consultant, Medical Parasitologist, University of Lagos, Prof. Wellington Oyibo, said it is imperative to promote health innovation within Africa so that Africa can still take her place in terms of research and development on drug discovery and diagnostics.He said the initiative was born through the mechanism of WHO because most of the drugs we use and diagnostics are never manufactured in Africa, everything has a strong western touch.

“How can Africa come into the space? Through our research we can be involved in development of medicines for quite a number of diseases especially the neglected tropical diseases and other conditions like malaria, diabetes, hypertension the same thing with innovation and technology and diagnostics.

“The ANDI group was formed to propel this new thinking so we can look within the Africa continent and be involved in these development activities. New drugs which we would have been able to experiment within our local resource can be available for Africans to use same thing with diagnostics and vaccines and to do that means that within the African continent, institutions have to be properly harnessed.” he said.

He added: “In 2011 there were about 142 proposals received from all African Institutions and our own application was among the 42 that were recommended and approved for centre of excellence. It means that for every centre of excellence there must be capacity to inform research and development to provide solutions in area of malaria.”

Oyibo said: “There are over 300 causes of fever that may not be malaria, if you now assume that every fever is malaria; you need to test all the causes as well. Those assumptions are no longer valid; ANDI centre is a centre people should approach when they have challenges especially with malaria.” The Prof said: “ANDI centre also does research on malaria case management, diagnostics and treatment, and on diagnostic implementation. The centre has the capacity to provide valuable research, development and training in the entire West African Sub-region.

“The centre has close working collaboration with the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) and other Malaria programme implementers such as the Society for Family Health, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) among others.The expert encouraged the use of RDTs, so as to reduce over diagnostics of malaria in the country, stressing that without diagnostics, medicine is blind,

“Test is a very important component of cases management and of evidence based practice. In 2018 reports, malaria increased in Nigeria, not that effort was not put in place to reduce it. One important thing is that the health workers do not believe in this test results and that is a challenge for this country because through the global funds, millions of these RDTs are being donated.

“Also, within the global interpretation of where Nigeria is, it will paint Nigeria globally as having more cases of malaria. If we do this testing, it will give 98 per cent accuracy and it is reliable,” he said.He also advised patients to instead of visiting a laboratory or hospital to do Malaria Parasite test, they should insist on RDTs test, because that give them accurate test results.

Oyibo tasked the populace to stop assuming that they had malaria when actually what they had are fever, stating that the presumptuous way of treating malaria changed in 2009 when a new policy emerged.

“We have done quite a lot but people still do not know about our contributions in Nigeria, Africa and globally where we have our footprints. In the global space, in terms of malaria case management, there was a dialogue on our infrastructure and capacity for research and development. We exist as a tropical disease laboratory we deal with all tropical diseases like malaria.

“For you to be a centre of excellence you should be able to resolve issues around that disease explain and provide guidance for policy towards understanding those diseases. We should provide leadership in terms of training and research in the work force for malaria.

“This centre is officially designated as a WHO malaria rapid diagnostic test facility verification facility, the role we play is to ensure that malaria diagnostics test are validated, they are quality assured across the country. “We are a research centre, we do research on malaria and we are working in a malaria case management diagnostic and treatment. We do research on diagnostic implementation. People think that whenever they have fever that its malaria, there is a misconception.

“Before now malaria used to be treated presumptively, you do not have to do a test. In fact fever is seen as a strong indicator for malaria. Fever is used as suspicion for high index of malaria and that was the training then. “Fever is used as index because of how malaria was that time and that Nigeria was described as hollow endemic for malaria which means it is likely that over 75 per cent of children present with fever, their likelihood would not be malaria,” Oyibo said.

He said that all of these have changed because the epidemiology of malaria is changing continuously. The parasitologist cautioned the public on the dangers of poor diagnostics as he describes it as life threatening urging the populace to always opt for the RDTs because it is more accurate, reliable and does not need electricity to work.


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Wellington OyiboWHO
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