Promoting research and development to tackle diseases, economic woes, preventable deaths
While scientists in developed countries are making breakthroughs in advancing research, such as in the development of drugs and vaccines for treatment of diseases and preparedness for impeding outbreaks, Nigeria is yet to make any feat.
Scientists have claimed that until certain bottlenecks hindering research promotion in the country are removed, Nigeria would not resolve the several health challenges around communicable and non-communicable disease management.
According to them research helps to improve the future of healthcare, as it promotes diagnosis of diseases and health problems, prevent development or recurrence of disease, reduce the number of people who come down with aliments, treat illness to improve survival rates, increase the number of people who are cured and improve the quality of life for people living with illness.
They noted that the there is greater need for improved research and development in Nigeria because of the global threat of monkey pox, Lassa fever, Yellow fever, Ebola, measles, flu-like illness, and other mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika virus and Dengue as warned by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
They posited that the government and researchers needed to step up efforts at promoting translational research and development (R&D) in order to tackle these diseases and avoid deaths.
The scientists from Nigeria and Germany during the Nigerian Institute of Medical (NIMR) and Humboldt College International Conference held in Lagos, themed: “”From Basic Science to Translational Research: The Journey so far in Nigeria” noted that while some statistics revealed certain countries within the African continent such as South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and Ghana are beginning to make significant strides towards placing the continent on the global map in qualitative research, Nigeria needs to deal with the bottleneck crippling its research and development.
Also, a study on “Challenges of Research and Human Capital Development in Nigeria” published in the Journal of Education and Practice by Dr. Chikwe, Christian; Dr. Ogidi, Reuben; and Nwachukwu, K. of the Department of Educational Psychology, Guidance and counseling Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, noted that research and human capital development are critical to the development of any nation.
According to the study, a high rating in human capital development indices places a country among the leading countries of the world. The researchers identified inadequate funding, lack of equipment, facilities and materials, lack of awareness, lack of implementation of research results, low rating in human capital indices, brain-drain, underemployment, etc., as challenges of research and human capital development in Nigeria.
‘Zero’ budgetary allocation for research
Former Director General, Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) who is also a Consultant of Gynaecology and Obstetrics at the University of Jos and Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), Prof. Innocent Ujah, condemned the national system whereby there is no fund at all allocated to research projects in Nigeria especially in the health sector. Ujah spoke as a guest speaker on the theme, “Research; A Veritable Tool in Advancing Health Care Systems in Nigeria” at a two-day conference organised recently by the Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria (MDCAN) in Jos, Plateau State.
According to him, “I have always said so that the reason why the fund is not available for research in Nigeria is that, maybe our policymakers do not appreciate the value of research because research drives development.“Look at the handset we are using today. It is due to full research. Previously, we were using analogue before. Now, we have gone digital. It is research. It doesn’t just come by prayers. We believe that we should advocate policymakers, to government and even philanthropists to set aside some funds for research.”
Also, professor of pharmacology at the University of Maiduguri, Prof. Isa Marte Hussaini, has decried government’s failure to fund R&D in the country. He lamented that Nigeria spends less than one per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on research while the United States of America spends billions of dollars on research, adding that the country’s penchant for finished products made it worse for it to invest in R&D.
Hussaini disclosed this in his keynote address titled, “Science as Driver of Development: The Importance of Communication,” during the launch of the African Science and Literacy Network (ASLN) organised by TRenD in Abuja.He explained any country that does not prioritise R&D was doomed to fail as countries that are determined to forge ahead talk science, eat science and breath science” which he said was not the case in Nigeria.
Former President of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) and a foremost virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, told The Guardian that science and the twin, technology, are the orphans of the Nigerian budgetary allocations.Tomori said disdained and misunderstood by both the executive and the legislature, science and technology are considered the non-revenue yielding ventures, the “have-nots” in Biblical terms, who must yield the little they have to those who already have.
Yearly, he said, the two arms of the federal government – the executive and the legislatures – collude to starve science and technology of the necessary funds needed to make science and technology the catalysts for Nigeria’s orderly and rapid socio-economic transformation from a backward to a developed nation.
Further analysis showed that for the past seven years, since 2012, the ministry of science and technology has received on the average 0.76 per cent of the federal budget ranging from 0.6 per cent in 2012 to the highest so far, 0.92 per cent in 2017.The situation is not better in 2019, as the 2019 allocation to the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST), N66.8 billion, is 0.73 per cent of the budget.
“Certainly, this is clear evidence that we are interested in replacing science and technology with magic and prophesy,” Tomori said.The virologist, who has worked with the WHO, said funding research in Nigeria has followed the same haphazard development of the FMST.Often, annual budgetary allocations to the FMST only just cover staff emoluments and nothing more! Indeed, in 2018, only 0.01 per cent of federal budget was earmarked for research and development.
This represents 1.87 per cent of the Ministry’s budget. Recurrent expenditure in 2018, accounted for 42.8 per cent of the entire Ministry’s budget.In the 2019 budget, the recurrent expenditure is set to take 52.4 per cent of the budget while research and development accounts for only 1.13 per cent of the Ministry’s budget and only 0.01 per cent of the federal budget.Tomori said what is common to many of the successful and developed countries is the proportion of the national GDP allocated to the R&D, as well as the education sectors.
Between 2009 and 2013, allocations to R&D amounted to three per cent or more of the GDP in Israel, Japan Germany and South Korea.He said the failure of Nigeria to adequately fund R&D is clearly shown by the difference in numbers of patents applied for in countries such as the China and United States, which provide substantial funds for R&D.
Between 2009 and 2011 the average number of patents application in China and US were 310,330 and 238,213 respectively.For the same period, Nigeria averaged 43 applications. Again, between 2006 and 2009, scientists in China published an average number of 50,376 research papers in peer reviewed journals; Nigerian scientists only succeeded in publishing 440 papers.
The Director General, NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Salako said it is not all about designing research, but translating it to have impact on the health system of the nation, treatment methods, new diagnostic methods and policies for government.He lamented that Nigerian scientists are only interested in doing research for promotion, saying: “We are interested in the number of papers we have written. We never even bother the impact of those researches, even though some of them, idea say, have significant clinical impact, but our interest is never in those impact.
He said Nigerian scientists write many researches to publish thereby counting the numbers so they can be giving the honour of being a professor.“After professor, you refuse to profess. Maybe what we do well is to continue to teach, some will continue to do research, but we need to go back to some of those research we have done and dust them on, because quite a number of them can actually be translated into policy, laboratory and clinical use, which we never bothered at the time because the main aim of doing those research was not because of the impact, but because of adding another paper and then getting the title that you really coveted,” he added.
He continued, “Now that some of us already have gotten the title, this is the time to sit and do some serious work so that we can begin to change the narratives for those people coming behind us. You must ask yourself, of what impact is this research you are doing going to have impact on the community, policy making, the nation’s health system and the global village at large? That is the only way you can sit down reminisce your contribution to science.”
On her part, the Director of Research, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Department, NIMR, Dr. Stella Smith, lamented that most of the researches done in Nigeria stay in the laboratory without being translated for use.“People just publish research for promotion, but how many go beyond doing promotion to inform policy, affect the common man in Nigeria, in terms of their health, everyday life, social life – what are those researches that people are doing that would affect the lives of the generality of the population of Nigeria?” She groaned.
Professor of Pharmacology, Institute for Advanced Medical Research and Training, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Olusegun George Ademowo, said bureaucracy in government is militating against importation of research equipment and scientific materials, as well as facilities and infrastructure that needs to be improved in order to provide enabling environment for basic science.
The Commissioner for Health, Lagos State Akin Abayomi, who is also a professor of haematopathology, in a paper titled, “Basic Sciences in the era of Translational Research, Are We Lost in Nigeria,” said Nigeria has a reasonable amount of basic scientists whose discovery needs to go through innovation pipeline that translates into tangible product, either in drugs, devices, or some kind of policy that transforms and translates the impact to the community.
He said health and research is grossly underfunded in Nigeria relying heavily in external funding, adding that the bureaucratic system of doing things in the country is perpetuating corruption through extraction of funds in the ministries and department.“We have serious bureaucratic issues, which we inherited the British colonial system. The health ministry is full of bureaucracy, before a file moves from one point to another it has to go through different time-spending protocols to evaluate and approve it, so by the time the file gets to you, you would have forgotten the project.
“That is the story, the British had long thrown away this bureaucratic system and have moved towards e-governance, but Nigeria is still sitting down with files and a multitude of bottlenecks that are designed. In fact there are more bottlenecks than the British gave us. The more bottlenecks there are, the easier it is to extract funding from the system,” he maintained.He continued: “We just have to get away with this system, we got to eliminate it. The flow of funding has to be under fiscal auditing, but we just need to open up these bottlenecks and I believe we are trying to unblock many of these that are exist within the hierarchy of government in Lagos.He noted that those bottlenecks result in corrupt practices, which abort the government’s agenda, adding that without solid governance platforms, “we are ever going to be vulnerable to the concept of bio piracy”
So what do we need to do?
The Commissioner for health said translational research requires a lot of economic investment, lamenting that Nigerian government “generally do not recognise this as the bedrock of knowledge economy in the sciences and the health fraternity.”He said advanced countries fund research to grow their economies, while Nigeria is “falling way behind the curve”.He said: “Recognition of where to put the funds and most people do not understand that your economy is defined by the number of translational environment in higher institutions that create intellectual property rights and economic growth. So without hard science in any discipline, which is what pushes an economy forward – our government must recognise that we need to put a lot more funding into the process of translational research.
“We need to convince our government to increase the amount of our GDP and our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), according to the Abuja declaration on health, science and research need to be able to have a robust, translational, innovative pipeline culture and economy, which will then foster our economy.”
Smith said there should be adequate funding, advocacy, networking and collaboration to tackle the challenges affecting translational research.“We only get funds from international agencies. These kinds of funding improve the quality of research in our laboratories and government has a role to play in funding research in Nigeria, because without research there is no development in any nation,” she added.
Ademowo said research capacity strengthening should be intensified to create a critical mass of experts, as areas with low capacity in Nigeria include, stem cell research, microarrays, tissue culture, bioinformatics, flow cytometry, gene cloning, gene expression, proteomics, genomics, nanotechnology, biotechnology.He said there should be local and institutional funding for research, incentive for good quality research publication and for attracting grants, prompt publication of research findings, well equipped library, institutional subscription to relevant database, research focus.The Consul General of Germany, Dr. Stefan Traumann, said researchers in developed countries are doing exploit to ensure developing cure eliminates diseases.He said their aim of funding research institutions is to create, promote exploration and science, as well as networking with other scientists across the globe.He said German government would continue to support scientific development in Nigeria through grants given to Nigerian scientists.
“There have been a lot of success recorded in the area of academics and research, this include about 2000 Nigerian students serving in Germany. Germany-Nigeria Developmental Corporation in the area of science and health sectors. Germany and Nigeria are great partners for around 160 years already,” he said.
Former president of NAS and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, called on the FG to allocate one per cent of the annual budget to R&D. He observed that no nation could attain greatness without STI.
Ibidapo-Obe said: “Increase in financial support towards research activities will advance the nation in a sustainable manner.“Investing in human resources is also essential to expand the knowledge frontier to move the nation forward.“Human resources development is the aggregate value of comfort to life, through agriculture and food security, rural development, water and environment, education, health, transportation and economy, among others.
“Researchers in developing countries should therefore focus primarily on aspects of knowledge expansion that relate to human welfare.“The purpose of research, especially in science and technology, is to expand the knowledge frontier through investment in human capital and thereby innovating research for technology innovations is essential.”Tomori said if Nigeria must become an industrialised and manufacturing country, she must initiate and fund major investment in research and development, infrastructure and educational capacity.
He explained: “In the past five years, Asia increased its share of global research and development investment 33 per cent to almost 40 per cent. China went up from 10 per cent to 18 per cent, making it the second largest spender after the US.“This increased investment in research and development by China has double positive effect on China’s development, contributing 60 per cent to economic growth and reducing reliance on foreign technologies to less than 30 per cent.
“China in 2011 produced 1.5 million new science and engineering graduates compared to 857,000 in the European Union. South Korea pursued such an initiative in the 1980s and is today a global leader in science and technology.“This is a lesson for Nigeria. We must invest in quality education by investing in, not just the universities and research institutes alone, but in every level of our education.
“In the last 20 years we have attempted to sidetrack developing science and technology and tailoring it to her needs. We have taken a shortcut by importing other peoples finished technology, and calling it transfer of technology. We import complete knocked down parts of vehicles and appoint a Nigerian Chief Executive Officer/Managing Director to oversee the screwing together of these parts. We have in the last two decades expelled science from our education and banished technology from our shores.
“We have neglected science, misapplied technology and truncated our progress and orderly development. It is not that we lack the appropriate policies to make Nigeria a great and developed country. What we lack is a national leadership, a national commitment, a national dedication, a national devotion, a national steadfastness and a national will to translate our great policies into productive action plans.”Tomori said as Nigeria prepares for a continuation of, or a new government in May 2019, it is important to again renew the repeated calls made to numerous past governments.
The virologist said developing science and technology and its harnessing for national development requires:
*A Presidential Research and Innovation Council for effective contribution and synergy in the S&T sector, which is cross cutting and to ensure continuity and seriousness of purpose, the National Research and Innovation Council (NRIC) as inaugurated and chaired by the President and Commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with service wide representation in its composition should be enshrined in the constitution of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria.
*Research and Innovation Fund In realization of the importance of R&D to Africa’s Development, the African Union (AU) Heads of States resolved in 2007 that a minimum of one per cent of GDP of nations should be dedicated to R&D purposes. This is still un-implemented in Nigeria.
*The National Research and Innovation Fund (NRIF) as stipulated in the National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy should be made a centralized fund, sourced from government; Internally Generated Revenues (IGRs) from R&D based agencies, private sector and international organisations.
*This fund will be utilized for STI activities service wide that will be well managed and closely monitored in line with the international best practices. This should as well be enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
*Increasing and strengthening of the theoretical practical base in terms of quality and quantity, providing the critical mass of S&T experts
*Promoting and maintaining an endogenous S&T base and R&D agenda.
*Directing S&T efforts along identified priorities and national goals.
*Facilitating the acquisition of knowledge to adapt, utilise, replicate and diffuse technologies for growth in a virile system of innovation.
*Supporting the establishing and strengthening of organisations, institutions and structures for effective coordination and management of S&T activities.
*Providing adequate and sustainable funding for the needed infrastructure facilities for training and research and development.
*Increasing public awareness in S&T and their vital role in national development through all possible means, including the media, research and development.
*Promoting the translation of results into actual goods and services example cassava flour in bread and other products, Nicosan drug for sickle cell developed from local West African drugs.
*Mainstreaming S&T into all sectors of Nigeria’s economy.
Similarly, some scientists called on the FG to redouble its efforts in using Science Technology and Innovation (STI) for accelerated industrialisation for national development.Former Director, Technology Acquisition and Adaption, FMST, Dr. Adeneye Talabi, told journalists that there should be constant improved financing of scientific research works for advancement of indigenous technology.He said that such efforts would make the nation to be less dependent on the developed countries in many sectors of the economy.
According to him, human resources and the abundant natural resources of the country ought to be properly harnessed for development.Dr. Femi Aluko of Department of Community Health, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, told journalists that proper spending on research would enhance homegrown technology to a reasonable level.
According to him, such effort will advance Nigeria to become a crucial global competitor in science and technology among developing countries.Aluko said that the nation needed technological inputs to really excel and that Nigeria ought to deepen efforts in research and development to catch up with some Asian countries that were once in the same level of technology.Aluko added: “The Asian Tigers such as Indonesia, India, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia and China among, others were once on the same level of technology development with Nigeria.
“But these countries have been making progress since 1960s in an impressive manner while Nigeria has remained stagnant.”On solving the problems of the space programme and satellite exploration, George Etomi & Partners insist that the CSTD also require funds to purchase the effective devices to back-up the institutions data.
“Every institution should have a reliable back-up facility in the event of a natural disaster or an accident that tarnishes the centre’s resources.”George Etomi & Partners in a publication titled “Overview of space exploration in Nigeria: challenges and solutions for the effective operation of the sector” recommended that private sector investment is also required for the infrastructural advancement of the sector.
The recommendations were published in Lexology.com.It noted: “As stated earlier, the nation is rich in human capital, however continuous training is required in order to maintain global competitiveness.Also, the creation of a Design Centre and an Assembling and Integration Centre would allow Nigerians build satellites domestically, thus cutting costs and creating an additional source of revenue by monetizing the facility in the event that other nations desire to utilize our facilities.”
To solve the issue of insufficient funds to achieve their mandate, the publication noted that the sector should be privatised so as to raise sufficient funds and encourage the level of training required to achieve the full potential of the sector.George Etomi and Partners concluded: “Furthermore, the National Space Research and Development Act (2010) may make a provision for the implementation of a separate fund for the attainment of space related solutions and research. This fund would ensure easy access and disbursement of the funds generated for the purpose of the development of the sector.
“It is also important for the Federal Government to undertake enlightenment programmes to acquaint private sector investors and the general public of the benefits associated with satellite exploration.”
In order to meet up the challenges of research and human development, the study published in the Journal of Education and Practice made the following recommendations:
*There should be adequate financial provision, particularly by all arms of government for researchers.
*Government at all levels should provide research grants to researchers in institutions of higher learning where bulk of researches is carried out every year.
*There is need for adequate provision of special equipment, facilities and materials needed for meaningful research. Science equipment for experiments in the science should be provided.
*There is need for extensive programme and staff training for researchers. This can be done through frequent seminars, conferences and workshops.
*There is need for effective public awareness on the benefit and contributions of research to national development.
*There is need for legislation to back up policies on research development and efforts. Government should go beyond policy statements and come out with effective document that can promote implementations of research findings.
*There should be drastic and far-reaching reforms in educational policies and programmes of the country to meet the human capital development of the 21st century and beyond.
*Government should put in place and faithfully implement policies and programmes to ensure that school curricula at all levels are functional, relevant, are matched to the resources and needs of the nations.
*Government should create employment opportunities for our teaming graduates. Government for the products of our educational system to be engaged meaningfully should also create conducive environment.
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