By Sola Ogundipe
Worried by the challenges in procurement of COVID-19 vaccines amid the second COVID-19 wave of infections, the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, has called on the federal and state governments to invest in research and development in collaboration with the private sector to boost Nigeria’s fortunes in the area of vaccine production.
Making the call weekend, the NMA President, Prof Innocent Ujah, said the only way Nigeria would stop its overdependence on the United States and Europe for the vaccines was to develop its own local manufacturing potential through realistic investment in health research.
Ujah, who described the investment as the driver of development, said Nigeria possessed the capacity to make significant gains in health research and development lamented that the lack of funding was a major drawback.
“I was the Director-General of the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, between 2010 and 2016. I worked with the Director-General of Nigeria Institute of Pharmaceutical Research & Development, NIPRD, very closely and we found that Nigeria was not ready to support research.
“We are supposed to be working with the NIPRD so that once they finish their laboratory services we would go ahead with clinical trials, unfortunately, there is no investment. The government and the private sector philanthropists are not prepared to support research and development in Nigeria.
“We have the capacity, but capacity alone without funding will not solve our problem, so my prayer is let us have a rethink and see how we can invest in research and development, he remarked.”
Decrying the dwindling fortunes of health research, Ujah said Nigeria needed to do more.
“We need to do something about advanced stage of research and vaccine production, ordinary data, provision, or documentation, we have not been doing it very effectively during this pandemic, but the truth of the matter is that we need to reorientate ourselves, there is no country that develops without research, it is the driver, we need to set our priorities right so that we invest in research, it does not matter if it is, anyone we need to research.”
Calling on the private sector to contribute to national development through health research, Ujah called for sustainable partnerships with the government, even as he observed that the US and Europe produced COVID-19 vaccines within 9 months as a result of commitment, based on the fact that it can be done.
“I believe that if we are able to re-orientate ourselves, reorganise our thoughts and give political will to help R&D, we should be able to do well, unfortunately, all these are wishes. We need to have a crack team that will work for Nigeria and brings out what it takes to carry out credible research because we have the capacity and only need funding.
“At the moment we rely on Europe and the US for the COVID-19 vaccines, they are not ready and willing to sell to poor countries in Africa, so why should we wait for them? We should put our heads together, put our instruments together, and put our thoughts together.
“We can organise ourselves properly, we should be able to help ourselves because their scientific knowledge and skill are not different from ours, we only need to sharpen our skill and go to the laboratory and produce what we believe will help us.
“So the overdependence on America and Europe should begin to dwindle only when political commitment is in place and we are committed to carrying out credible research, not all these people who would go to the lab today and tomorrow they say they have a cure for COVID-19, all those are charlatans. We can do better than what we are currently doing but we need all the support.”