Although, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not officially approved the use of Chloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19; the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) ordered the manufacture of the old antimalarial drug and it is being repurposed for the treatment of COVID-19 in Nigeria.
This imbroglio between NAFDAC and WHO occasioned by the search for a solution to COVID-19; has raised concerns about the justification for centralising solutions to health issues in the world.
For instance, while WHO at some point called for a stop in the clinical trial of Chloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19; NAFDAC disagreed with the global health body and continued with the clinical trial of the drug in Nigeria. And so the trial continues in Nigeria.
NAFDAC in all its arguments has been realistic and shown optimism. It claimed that ‘‘There are data to prove that hydroxychloroquine worked for many COVID-19 patients… we would continue our own clinical trials in Nigeria.’’ Even some eminent Nigerians who were COVID-19 patients have publicly claimed that they were treated with Chloroquine.
Similarly, India and Brazil have said that Chloroquine works. In Africa, while it is not yet Uhuru, the continent despite its poor health infrastructure thus far has been managing COVID-19 patients using indigenous solutions; and till present records lowest COVID-19 cases and deaths.
So, in terms of a cure for COVID-19 in Nigeria, the actions of NAFDAC till present, demonstrate that the agency is thinking locally because in the past Chloroquine was used in Nigeria. Thus, the agency is commended for listening to global agenda, but applying local solutions within the context of our experience, culture and economic outlook. This action of NAFDAC has further reinforced the sovereignty of Nigeria; and shown that Nigeria can avoid some prescribed Euro-centric solutions to most development issues.
As such, Nigeria should use the search for COVID-19 solution as an entry point to wean itself of colonial mentality and ‘‘enslavement’’ to foreign solutions. Therefore, it is imperative that Nigeria looks inward for a home-grown solution to COVID-19, using local herbs, fruits and vegetables that have therapeutic value at least for supportive care, while vaccine research is in progress. That way, local elements can be used to boost the immunity of Nigerians and thus control the spread of the disease. Furthermore, the Nigerian government should confer with experts and look in the area of promoting the use of supplements – Zinc, Vitamin C and other multivitamins as immune boosters against coronavirus to reduce the spread.
Essentially, Nigeria should not proffer foreign solutions to COVID-19 when we have local pharmacists, researchers and scientists. We should study and respond to the claims of ‘cure’ by local researchers and boost the confidence of our pharmacists, researchers and scientists. Nigeria should not remain a recipient country focused on getting a solution from WHO and other donor agencies.
Therefore, as the world searches for a solution to COVID-19, Nigeria can stun the world if the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) can lead various groups to develop home-grown solutions. The sleepy Academy’s initiative can thus remove the reproach of our dependence on Western countries for solutions to preventive and curative health.
Hence, the government should set-up a sub-committee under the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 comprising Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) members and core researchers to invite people who have done some works; and harmonise them. To achieve results, the committee should work with the Medical Research Council, alternative medicine practitioners, Pharmaceutical Council and Centres of Excellence on Herbal Medicine and call for submissions. The group should escalate research into local cure; develop regulation and guidelines for the control of such traditional medicines and the conservation of medicinal plants, especially those facing extinction due to over-use, bush burning, drought and urban development.
The sub-committee should also work with relevant research centres in our universities for afro-centric research and mainstream local herbal solutions, which would be cheaper and readily available since we already have a hunch that there are local herbal solutions that show promise in the battle against COVID-19. Furthermore, there is a need for collaboration among relevant institutions for the seamless integration of traditional medicine proven to be safe and effective in the prevention of COVID-19.
Pharmaceutical and allied companies should be encouraged to join the train because past researches have shown that traditional medicines for managing diseases exist. Therefore, the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) in collaboration with the committee should undertake scientific research to generate evidence for the safety, efficacy and quality of the traditional medicinal products and practices that could help in containing COVID-19.
This committee can also work with states that have established traditional medicine boards because what is needed now is stepping up action in the area of “research and development” to trial, modernisation and standardisation i.e. carry out pharmacognosy to authenticate them by working with the NAFDAC and Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN), for good manufacturing practices to ensure stable and well-preserved products, uniform and accurate dosing and properly-labelled herbal medicines.
Herbalists should also be encouraged to come up with local herbs known to them, register their proven and efficacious herbal preparations with NAFDAC, while NAFDAC should ensure that such medicines discovered undergo rigorous scientific analysis/clinical test before being endorsed for use and the side effects/toxicity of the drugs explicitly stated on the pack.
In addition, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is developing a framework to provide financial support for the development of vaccines in Nigeria; and science institutions and firms should take advantage of this to help in the prevention of COVID-19.
These all-inclusive multidimensional efforts are realistic solutions if our leaders at all levels have the political will to look inward in the search for a solution to COVID-19 pandemic. As an independent country, the nation should be at the forefront in providing local solutions not just for Nigeria; but the continent. So, the nation must seize the moment to write her name in gold as other countries of the world have commenced trials of coronavirus vaccines.
As for WHO, it should encourage countries to contextualise COVID-19 solutions and support them to be self-sufficient instead of grooming them to be perpetually dependent on foreign solutions! Enough of a top-down approach to development. Politics of development should be jettisoned in the search for solutions to COVID-19 because we are dealing with human lives.
Finally, as a country, we must always remember that the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. We must, therefore, empower our pharmaceutical companies, researchers and scientists to take the first step in the fight against COVID-19. So, the Nigerian leaders should not dismiss claims by Nigerians researchers who claim to have found a cure and those researchers should be bold enough to submit their solutions for validation. It is important to think globally, but we must act locally – at this time.