The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has not only claimed the 291, 981 lives as at May 13, 2020, but has also shattered the means of livelihood of millions across the world, thereby testing the strengths and weaknesses of many nations in terms of preparedness in confronting any pandemic.
In trying to contain the spread of COVID-19, Nigeria needs to do more than locking people down and spending billions of naira on palliatives. While we appreciate the responsive nature of the NCDC (in some most cases) to deal with the pandemic, Nigeria needs to invest in its educational institutions to do research and also provide an enabling environment for the results of such research to be believable.
Nations are as strong as their institutions, and the primary goal of all educational institutions all over the world is to solve local problems of their immediate societies. Whereas many developed nations rely solely on researchers in their educational institutions by empowering and incentivising them to get their heads around the pandemic in terms of rapid and massive production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and ventilators, clinical trials of drugs and vaccine production, Nigeria seems to be looking far away to solve the problem despite the confirmed litmus test on the endless possibilities for its researchers in various institutions to fully deliver.
Example, the United Kingdom alone has invested about £300m ($373m) on research for COVID-19 treatment, vaccine, diagnostic kits and PPE. Among the leading research institutions for this task are the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London. I am fully aware that my alma-mater,, the University College London (UCL), in colaboration with the University College Hospital, has designed and produced life-saving breathing aids for immediate use by many hospitals in the UK.
Similarly, in the United States, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Chicago and Harvard University have massively produced PPE and donated to the hospitals which are critically in need. The University of Montana in the USA secured a $2.5m grant for vaccine production.
Drawing parallels to the success stories of the institutions in the UK and USA on COVID-19 research, the Nigerian institutions, albeit poorly funded, are not doing badly at all. There was the intensification of effort in the last few months by the team of researchers from the Bayero University Kano (BUK) and the Airforce Institute of Technology Kaduna to produce ventilators. My colleagues from ABU Zaria have fabricated an automatic 4-in-1 sanitising machine and another intensive care ventilator for COVID-19 patients, and even our students of Mechanical Engineering in ABU have also produced a prototype ventilator.
Just recently, a group of professors from the same ABU (pharmaceutical sciences) promised to unveil a cure for COVID-19.soon.
Nigerian researchers are very intelligent and hardworking. Aside from the fact that in 2020, one in every six Africans and one in every 1:39 persons in the world is a Nigerian; the success stories of most of the developed nations in the fight against COVID-19 would have been incomplete without Nigerians. For instance, Dr. Babafemi Taiwo, the chief of the infectious diseases in the Northwestern University is a USA based Nigerian, who is currently leading a study on the potentials of Remdesivir (a broad-spectrum antiviral drug) to treat COVID-19. Dr. Taiwo graduated with a degree in MBBS from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. I believe strongly that there are several likes of Dr.Taiwo in almost every part of the world, who are solving the problems of the countries they reside in and adding value to them. They consequently and maybe inadvertently, are building the reputations of those Nations among the comity of Nations
There is generally an avalanche of evidence with regards to Nigerian State not valuing their indigenous researchers, which doubtlessly caused and is still causing a huge academic shame among their peers in the world. For example, the visit of the Chinese Medical team to help with the fight against COVID-19 and the recent directive by the FGN to procure COVID Organics (CVO) from Madagascar appeared to be a collective insult to the expertise of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) respectively. I believe that these international interventions are needless at these trying times and FGN should have first looked inward for solutions.
I am a strong believer in the limitless possibilities on the potency of the ‘mind and hand’ of Nigerians. ‘Mens et Manus’, which literally means ‘Mind and hand’, is a slogan for one of the best Universities in the world, MIT in the United States. MIT was established not only to solve problems but to also train a critical mass of inventors and entrepreneurs to add value to the world. Solving Nigerian problems by the Nigerians will lead to value addition and that will massively create wealth for the nation. The singular fact that the Nigerian researchers know that they are not only valued but are also relied upon by the FGN and her citizenry to solve her problems will automatically give them a sense of fulfillment to do more. Looking inwardly for such to happen, the following are a few suggestions.
1) Private donors helping with palliatives, PPE and isolation centres should also look at the possibility of funding research on COVID-19 in Nigeria
2) More research interventions on COVID-19 such as the recent one currently anchored by the CBN to fund Nigerian made vaccine against the COVID-19 should be established
3) The Nigerian Medical Association and the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria should be empowered to come up with drugs for treatment/cure for COVID-19.
4) The FGN should expedite the clinical efficacy of the prototype ventilators already produced by the Nigerian researchers and facilitate their mass production.
Finally, it is noteworthy that COVID-19 pandemic should not only be the end but a turning point on funding and empowering Nigerian researchers to solve local Nigerian problems.
Hamisu Adamu Dandajeh, PhD, is a lecturer with the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, and presently a teaching fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA – firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com