By Chioma Obinna
As scientists continue to study the coronavirus pandemic, Nigerian scientists and members of the Nigerian Academy of Science, NAS, have been tasked to wake up and raise their voices in defense of science as the underpinning principle for COVID-19 response in the country.
The call which came as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, disclosed that Lagos State contributes 35 per cent of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, challenged the scientists not to take silence as an option but to take the advantage to overcome the crisis created by the pandemic.
Making the assertions during a webinar, the Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu observed that science is facing one of the biggest assaults as well as one of the biggest opportunities in a lifetime, even as he regretted the series of conflicts emanating as a result of the pandemic.
At the webinar organised by the NAS with the theme: “COVID-19 Response in Nigeria: The Science and the Policy”, Ihekweazu warned that if scientists in medicine, pharmacy, or public health continued to maintain silence, they would lose the basis on which they have built their profession.
The NCDC boss said scientists must continue to defend science as the underlining and underpinning principle on which decisions about the ongoing epidemic were being made.
His words: “That principle is being challenged very deeply in our society and in many other societies. If we don’t raise our voices to defend this underpinning principle on which basis we have built our various carriers whether it is medicine, pharmacy of public health, then we collectively stand a big risk of losing it all.
“We need the voices of Nigerian scientists. Keeping quiet is not an option. Somebody comes up with a cure for something and if we all leave it to NCDC to defend, it won’t work. We need the scientists to really understand the basis of which our profession is built. We need NAS to do much more to be vigorous and use their voices more in defending science as the underlining principles on how our response should work,” he asserted
Giving an account on the COVID-19 response so far, Ihekweazu regretted that a lot of work done so far has been lost in the face of public criticism, but said currently, 30,000 COVID-19 tests are done daily in Nigeria.
He said the major concerns of the NCDC was to support states to develop sustainable response activities driven by data, scale-up sample collection and laboratory testing capacity to establish true burden, increase Nigeria’s contribution to global research, solidarity trails, clinical trials, etc, continue collaboration for multi-sectorial research activities as well as prepare better for the next pandemic.
On his own part, renowned virologist and former President of the NAS, Prof Oyewale Tomori urged President Buhari to call all the State governors to order towards responding to the national emergency of the pandemic.
“When we are talking about the response, we should know that in a national emergency there is nothing like state authority and that is why the president should have called the governors to order. The state authority is causing challenges. Nobody has control of what the state is doing.
“We have a national emergency in our hands and we should act like one. We don’t understand why the president is not calling them to order. Kogi is still doing what they like and Cross River is grudgingly responding. There is a need for scientists to keep on pushing.”
Speaking, a renowned Virologist and former NAS’s President, Prof Oyewale Tomori regretted that President Buhari was yet to call the governors to order in terms of responding to a national emergency like COVID-19 pandemic. “When we are talking about state authority we should know that in a national emergency there is nothing like state authority that is why the president should have called Governors together.
“The state authority is causing some challenges. Nobody has control of what the state is doing. We have a national emergency in our hands and we should act like one. We don’t understand why the president is not calling them to order. Kogi is still doing what they like. Cross River is grudgingly responding. There is a need for scientists to keep on pushing on.”
The President of NAS, Professor who gave an overview of NAS involvement in the response said the academy was the first to issue a statement early in March. “Our members are serving in different committees and panels. Our experts are actively working on how to respond to the pandemic in Africa and Nigeria. The academy is doing so much in preparing for the next pandemic. We reviewed the whole Ebola thing and made suggestions for treatment.”
He said in all the best bet remains prevention. “there is a need to emphasise the preventive measures, such as physical distancing, washing hands as frequently as possible as the only drug that has shown effectiveness is Remdesivir.
On his part, the Dr Bode Ladipo, the COVID-19 incident Manager, Oyo State, who spoke on “The Situation: COVID-19 Response in Oyo State” noted that the COVID-19 response in the state was faced with challenges of Management of resources, low level of public response to risk communication, poor compliance with advisories and guidelines and poor public perception of the pandemic.
Ladipo stressed the need to intensify public enlightenment, full implementation of the Rapid Response Team, RRT, and integration of sample collection into more existing health facility structures.
Speaking, Prof Isa Marte Hussaini, of the Ministry of Higher Education, Borno State, who spoke on treatment and management of the coronavirus with some of the controversial drugs said younger people do not die more from the virus because of their immunity, adding that the death rate in Nigeria was still under 2.0.