COVID-19: Where are Nigerian scientists’ local solutions?
The coronavirus pandemic has proven to be a leveller, shattering the best of medical systems and confounding erstwhile infallible medical knowledge. At present, not much is precisely known of its deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or how to curtail its rampaging devastation. In the disruptive melee that grips the world, researchers have returned to dugouts in search of prophylactic and curative solutions. One is, therefore, inclined to ask: where are the Nigerian scientists, researchers, local understanding and solutions to the dynamics of the new coronavirus disease?
Indeed, the travel and travail of homogenous species through antiquity to modernity suggest that nothing is beyond the rigors of the mind. That is to say no problem is beyond solution; even if the latter is delayed. In a similar vein, the breakthrough to the coronavirus conundrum may be closer than we readily know. In fact, a ray of hope is beginning to light up the grim dark skies of the pandemic, and from the unlikeliest of places – Africa.
Just the other day, for instance, Madagascar’s President, Andry Rajoelina, launched the COVID Organics (CVO) that was developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research to cure the novel coronavirus disease 100 per cent. The Artemisia-based herbal remedy is being tested by Senegal and some other African countries including Nigeria. Senegal too has contributed to the COVID-19 solution. Its Institut Pasteur has invented the low-cost $1 Testing kit to solve the problem of getting as many people as possible tested. It is all about indigenous solutions from the research laboratories.
Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world has not shown the world any product of rigorous thoughts, experimentation and contributions to knowledge in this crisis. What the world has seen is the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 – a star-studded team of ministers, politicians and a couple of technocrats who are more eager to verbalise the problem and offer excuses or cover-ups on fallouts. All-too-familiar are cut-and-paste measures of all manner of guidelines. It began with shutting down the airspace in March. Nigeria literally tagged along other nations. Then, the hurriedly built isolation centres, deployment of ventilators and directives on face masks because they are the in-thing in other places. What of treatment? President Trump said it is chloroquine. Nigeria started using chloroquine. Now, it is the Malagasy remedy. “Ship them in,” President Buhari has declared!
The fire-brigade, reactionary approach and lack of proper coordination speak volumes. What Nigerians have not seen is the government’s think tank or group of core scientists and input of egg-heads from the community of researchers. We have not seen real knowledge on the cusp and indigenous potential solutions – either being proposed or still proposing itself for the salvation of humanity – from the glimmer of hope for the black race – Nigeria
Mind you, it is not for lack of potential local remedy that Nigeria has not contributed intellectually and pragmatically. As this newspaper stated the other day, the Nigerian soil is blessed with rich vegetation of food and herbs. Even without the benefit of literacy and formal school system, our forefathers and those still in the interior know the value of natural remedies. They don’t know artemisinin and phytochemical analysis. But they know that a pot-full of dogon-yaro leaves, bark of the mango tree, pineapple, lemon, and ginger and so on at boiling point cures acute malaria and typhoid. A lot of these have been packaged and are being proposed by herbal practitioners for certification or classification. If that is too crude to get clinical analysis of the orthodox practitioners and researchers alike, the experiences of some COVID-19 survivors are irrefutable. Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde shortly after receiving a clean bill of health said black seed oil, carrot, honey and Vitamin-C were instrumental in shrugging off the deadly virus. The black communities in the United Kingdom are getting ingenious and organic, in this regard. Rather than allowing themselves to be abandoned to die in already overwhelmed isolation centres in Britain, they are settling for indigenous remedies at home and getting well, according to their testimonies.
These are much sought-after solutions in plain sight. But where are Nigerian researchers and their evidence-based findings on these local remedies? Specifically, where is the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS)? Where are their laboratories, researchers, findings and documentations on COVID-19? Physical distancing, regular hand washing habits and face masks are good interventions. But, how effective are they among Nigerians? Are they really the best possible preventive measures for the citizenry? What exactly are the gains of the recent lockdown in Lagos and Abuja? Could it have been done differently? What are the alternatives in densely congested cities and humid climate? Which are the best clothing materials that should go into face masks and PPEs for best protection and why? These are the questions that should agitate the minds of a knowledge-driven society and its researchers.
Don’t get it twisted: we are not unaware of the challenges facing researchers and how they have for so long been abandoned. Their fate is not different from that of our collapsed education system. Indeed, ours is a society that has no culture of Research and Development (R&D) – at least, in the modern sense of the term. Successive voodoo-oriented state-actors at all levels have only paid lips service and never funded quality research for development. And for lack of motivation, a lot of trained scientists have either turned preachers, politicians or both.
However, the real scientists are still among us. But more than ever, they require a lot of courage and determination to turn the tide and get a good buy-in. The quality of support possible will only be directly proportional to quality of discovery at this critical time. While the odds are undeniable, the researchers cannot give up on themselves or the nation.
We should recall that until coronavirus, not many Nigerians knew about the National Centre for Disease Control. Now, they know it has a Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, just like epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci is now as popular as Donald Trump in America. More so, Madagascar has got the attention of the WHO to begin clinical trial for the Covid Organics because their scientists did not give up on themselves.
Similarly, the Federal Government and the COVID-19 Presidential Task Force (PTF) will do the black race a world of good by funding fact-finding researches at this period of existential medical emergency. All the indigenous remedies that are awaiting clinical trials should be validated on their merit. It is better late than never. The point is that Nigeria cannot continue to be laid back for bodies like the World Health Organisation (WHO), based in Geneva, Switzerland, to define our COVID-19 local case presentations and hopefully supply vaccines to flatten the curve. Such docility and consumerist neo-colonial psyche are archaic and barbaric. On one hand, it exposes the whole economy to the politics of global healthcare and marketers of vaccines. On the other hand, it simply reduces Nigerians to the status of guinea pigs for their clinical trials.
Therefore, this is urgent: we require our scientists to think without the box and beyond textual knowledge of western education and outdated curriculum. Indeed, there are valuable heritage in our cultures that are worth documenting and exporting to the world. After all, knowledge is potential power. It is incomplete until it is operationalised and solution-oriented. There cannot be a more perfect time than now to challenge stereotypes and status quo to showcase our potential. It is such organic thinking that raises hope of a nation in particular and the human race in general. Above all, Nigerians and the rest of Africans want to see more proactive measures to this global pandemic of local dimension. There should be ‘‘glocalisation’’ (thinking global and acting local). We demand that our researchers should look inwards and collaborate more to give us home-grown solution of global relevance. The lockdown is a difficult child of necessity that we cannot afford for too long. It should not mean the lockdown of our minds and research laboratories. What are our researchers waiting for?