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Where are we in the race?

By Ray Ekpu
05 May 2020   |   3:23 am
The world is moving at a frenetic pace to find the solution to the COVID-19 problem. It is right and proper to invest a sense of maniacal urgency in the project...

The world is moving at a frenetic pace to find the solution to the COVID-19 problem. It is right and proper to invest a sense of maniacal urgency in the project because an army of people have already died globally and many more are on the danger roll. If no solution is found quickly many more people will perish and as most countries of the world stay locked down, the global economy will collapse or drift into an irretrievable recession. For countries like Nigeria which depend largely on one product for their sustenance there will be wahala galore. But the economy or what will happen to it in the days ahead is not the subject of today’s homily. It is about the medical solution to the pandemic.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a few days ago that 102 potential COVID-19 vaccines are in the works worldwide. That is an interesting and soul-lifting news, an indication that the world has attached the right level of importance and urgency to the search for a solution to this invidious enemy. What has not been disclosed by WHO is the composition of the 102 participants in the project? However, it is already in the public domain that such conscientious countries as United States, China, United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Spain, France and United Arab Emirate have been on the ball since it dawned on the world that there was a vicious enemy at the door. Their scientists have been burning the midnight oil so as to find the key to the COVID-19’s secret place of abode. But even some developing countries such as Madagascar and Senegal have not allowed themselves to be sidelined in the search for the way out. Recently, the Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina announced that the Madagascar Institute of Applied Research has developed herbal medicine called COVID-Organics which can prevent and cure patients suffering from COVID-19. The medicine is said to contain Artemisia, a plant cultivated in the island country to fight malaria.

The President said that “all trials and tests have been conducted and its effectiveness in the elimination of symptoms has been proven for the treatment of patients with COVID-19 in Madagascar.” The COVID-Organics, he said, “will be distributed free of charge to our most vulnerable compatriots and sold at very low prices to others. There are already a few cases that have been cured with the COVID-Organics. The use of it will be mandatory for children who are returning to school.” A presidential decree has been issued to that effect. It is claimed by the Madagascan authorities that as at April 22, the statistics in that country stood at 121 cases of which 44 had recovered with no deaths so far. As a form of encouragement the American President Donald Trump has offered $2.5 million to Madagascar for the development of the COVID-19 remedy. This was announced by the US Ambassador to Madagascar Mr. Michael Pelletier on April 21. So Madagascar’s children are going back to school because their country has found a home grown solution to the pandemic problem.

In the ECOWAS region, Senegal has gone a few steps ahead of all the countries in the region. It has discovered a serum which the Senegalese Minister of Health Diouf Sar has presented to the Chinese Ministry of Health as the drug for the treatment of COVID-19. China is alleged to have officially confirmed that the drug is 100% effective as more than seven cases have been cured with the drug already. Senegal has also developed a test kit that can produce results within 10 minutes. It costs $1 only. It is obvious from the two cases mentioned that even in Africa there are some countries that are not sitting and waiting for oyinbos to spoon feed them. They are proving that they are capable of making their own contribution to the solution of problems that confront humanity.

Last week, Oxford University scientists tested the drug Remdesivir on humans for COVID-19. They expect the results to be available about the middle of next month. However, a California based pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences said that some COVID-19 patients treated with remdesivir improved dramatically and were discharged within two weeks. This trial is said to be the final stanza in the approval process but the drug has not been approved or licenced anywhere in the world. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the American White House Coronavirus Task Force told US reporters a few days ago that the results from the remdesivir drug trial has shown “quite good news.” In the United Arab Emirates, a team of doctors and researchers at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Centre (ADSCC) has developed a new stem cell treatment for COVID-19 which has shown promising results in initial trials. It involves extracting stem cells from the patient’s own blood and re-introducing it after activating it. The treatment was administered in the UAE to 73 COVID-19 patients who allegedly have all been successfully treated and cured of the virus. In Nigeria, a well-known pharmacologist Professor Maurice Iwu has been announcing repeatedly that he and his team of scientists have found the cure for the virus.

He has submitted his claims to the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu for appropriate action. Also one Dr. Jawa Ibrahim Muhammad who trained in China and India in alternative medicine says he has discovered the antidote for COVID-19. He is the President of African Traditional Medicine Practitioners. Recently, the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Jigawa, Professor Fatima Batul Mukhtar announced that she had directed the University’s Directorate of Research & Development to develop a home- grown solution to the pandemic. The Head of the research team, Dr. Salihu Ibrahim has indicated that the university has collaborated with traditional medicine practitioners to identify and extract medicinal plants with a recorded history of use against severe fever, protracted cough and acute pneumonia.

He said that the first clinical trial on healthy volunteers will commence on May 14 while the clinical trial on patients with pneumonia will start on June 14. A few more people in Nigeria have made claims to possessing the magic drug that can do the deed. One of them asked for five COVID-19 patients and if they were not healed he should be shot. There might be more claims, genuine and fake, in the days ahead because anyone who gets the nod of the authorities on the cure is made for ever. But there is someone who thinks the cure is here already and he is a witness to the pandemic, a man who was struck by it and has survived to tell his story.

That man is the Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, who tested positive, went through the rigorous treatment process and is now back at his desk, hale and hearty. He pays tribute to chloroquine and zithromax, the drug combination that saved his life. He says he would take responsibility for any consequences that may arise from his approval of the drug because “I don’t want anyone to die.” To the health officials he said: “I have given you the directive that you must use something that I have used to get well just as you have used for all other cases that got well.” That is a sweet testimony, a confirmatory assurance from someone who is an evidential proof that the drug combination he mentioned can save other souls because they saved his own. Is there anyone ready to contradict him? Or is it possible that while the drugs may have worked for him they may not work for other COVID-19 patients? So who is coordinating, examining and assessing all the claims by people who are saying eureka, we have found it? I think the Federal Government ought to set up a committee of experts who can make our own contribution to finding a solution to the problem.

Why should we remain parasitic consumers of what others produce when we do have the capacity to come up with results that others around the world can benefit from. Our grandparents were ingenious in the use of alternative medicine by deploying local herbs and plants. Our local bone setters are better than many orthopaedic surgeons. Oil extract from python is a certified antidote to poison. Our native chalk works like magic in the treatment of prickly heat and measles. Palm kernel oil is a perfect cure for high fever and poison. In many of our rural communities where there are no western-style health facilities alternative or traditional medicine is the game in vogue. Even in western medicine Nigerians have done quite well. That is why they are found practising in many parts of the world today. When I went for a work-study programme at Indiana University in 1977 I found at the Houston Space Centre a Nigerian space scientist.

I found a Nigerian heart transplant surgeon at Beverly Hills. I found a Nigerian sickle cell anaemia expert who was dotted on by the American authorities because of his incomparable ingenuity. These people were able to thrive there because the operating environment was good. Today in our so-called Teaching Hospitals, doctors personally buy equipment for their work so that their skills will not be blunted from lack of use. I think the Federal Government should set up a medical committee to look at the four corners of the COVID-19 pandemic, the possible drugs that can be developed locally, facilities that need to be provided to boost our health situation and how the country can benefit from the intellectual exertions of our medical experts locally and in the diaspora. In terms of facilities, research and development in the medical field, we are too far behind the rest of the world and if this pandemic becomes our wakeup call we can count it as a blessing in disguise. This committee should include doctors, virologists, epidemiologists, pharmacologists, plant biologists, microbiologists, technologists and alternative medicine experts. Let us challenge them because the adversity that we are going through now may turn out to be the mother of inventions. That is what gave the Biafran scientists the fillip to do what they did wonderfully in those 30 months of the civil war.

Correction: Last week I wrote a column on Richard Akinjide’s Footprints. In that column I said in connection with the celebrated election case between Obafemi Awolowo and Shehu Shagari that the Supreme Court asked that “it be not quoted as a precedent.” Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN called me to say that the statement is incorrect. He says that “on the contrary fewer decisions of the Supreme Court are quoted than this one as leading precedents on the interpretation of statutes.” I thank him for the correction. The error is regretted.