BY ABIOSE ADELAJA ADAMS
In the aftermath of the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease, EVD, in the country, the Nigeria Academy of Science, has underscored the need for government to increase funding for scientific research asthe pillar of any sustainable economic development.
The Academy in a statement issued on Monday drew the attention of the federal government to the outbreak of the Ebola disease as a reason why it must encourage scientists by creating an enabling environment for research that can lead to breakthroughs in vaccine and drug development.
“Priority must be given to science and technology and especially to funding research and ensuring a conducive environment for scientists in Nigeria,” said Oyewale Tomori, president of the Academy.
According to him, funding for research is not about building nice architectural structures, but should involve creating centers of excellence and well equipped laboratories so that scientists can come in and do research.
“We need to spend money to solve our needs. We should ask what are the things plaguing us and how can we improve the lives of our people,” he stated.
Peculiar diseases of African origin such as sickle cell anaemia, malaria and now Ebola, which has recorded 22 outbreaks since 1976, should inspire both scientists and the government, for a solution.
For instance, the experimental drug ZMapp, which was given to two Americans who have survived the disease, was developed ten years ago by Mapp Biopharmaceuticals, with funding from the U.S Army and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“Science is all about what more can I do to make a difference, what more can I do to improve the lives of the people. If we are not doing this but depending on advanced nations, we are not showing that we are relevant; and we are not serious about development,” Tomori said.
He observed that most functional laboratories in the country like the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and Redeemer’s University laboratory where the Ebola cases were confirmed were able to function effectively because they had a large measure of support and funding from external agencies.
He lamented that “there is no lab fully supported by the Federal government that is working well. It shows that something is wrong.”
The Academy, which is the nation’s advisory organ on science and technology matters, in a paper submitted to the Science and Technology committee at its just concluded National Conference, highlights how USA, Israel, China, South Africa, South Korea, allocate a certain dedicated percentage of their gross domestic product, GDP, to research and development, unlike in Nigeria where there is no allocation for the same purpose.
“There is no dedicated fund for research, the professor of Virology noted, adding that “yearly budgetary allocations for the Ministry of Science and Technology are for recurrent and capital expenditures only.”
The same document posited that Nigeria has one of the least number of scientific journals published between the year 2006-2009, compared to Japan, China, India, Brazil, South Korea.
Since the outbreak of Ebola on July 20 when an infected Liberian, Patrick Sawyerr, flew into the country, several treatment options have been explored. The first was the bitter Kola, then ZMapp and Nanosilver.
Another remedy that has been touted is bitter cola, a fruit that is commonly eaten in Africa. And it has actually gone through some laboratory trial processes.
It was spearheaded by two institutes, namely the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research, NIPR and Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, and the treatment research committee set up by the Nigerian government says it will reappraise the claim that bitter cola can cure Ebola, although Minister had debunked the claim.
Professor Maurice Iwu, a Nigerian scientist, had in 1999 found that bitter kola hinders the multiplication of Ebola virus cells during an experiment carried out in a laboratory test tube.
Iwu, who is the executive director of the Bioresources Development and Conservation Programme, and a consultant at Walter Reed Army Hospital in suburban Washington, in 1999, presented his research paper at the 16th International Botanical Congress in St. Louis, United States.
At that time, one of the top infectious-disease laboratories in the United States tested the fruit and said that it passed the crucial and difficult first hurdle. But apart from the test tube stage, the claim still has to be tested in mice and primates to determine its toxicitybefore it can become an experimental drug to be tested in humans.
The researcher said it holds a lot of promise because unlike most drugs that don’t make it to the second stage for toxicityreasons, bitter kola will not have a problem of toxicity as it is already being eaten in Africa.
But nothing has been heard about whether further research continued on it. Iwu, however, told our reporter that the research was an old one, but worth re-examining.
“But it is worth exploring again, I did it back then, when Ebola killed over a 1,000 people, and it was published in 1999.