The umbrella body of pharmacists in the country, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, PSN, has disagreed with the Federal Government and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control over the search for cures for COVID-19.
The Secretary General of the PSN, Emeka Duru, in an interview on Wednesday, stated that the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development had several relevant drugs waiting to be developed.
The Director General of NAFDAC, Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, had in a statement earlier on Wednesday, said the agency had received only one application for the treatment of COVID-19 symptoms.
According to her, claims on the COVID-19 cure are domiciled in either the conventional news media or the social media.
Also, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, had, at the PTF press briefing on Tuesday, challenged Nigerian researchers to produce drugs and vaccines for COVID-19.
On Monday, Mustapha said the President Muhammadu Buhari, had directed that COVID Organic, a herbal drug produced by Madagascar, be airlifted to Nigeria.
But the PSN, in a statement on Tuesday by its President, Mazi Ohuabunwa, kicked against the directive, saying it was “thoroughly disgraceful.”
Commenting on COVID-19 cure, NAFDAC DG, Adeyeye, noted that the rush to mitigate the mortality and morbidity from the pandemic had resulted in acceleration of product development, repurposing of formulations, off-label use of therapeutics and the search for a vaccine to prevent the virus.
She said, “Because no vaccine yet exists to prevent further spread of the virus, the huge burden of developing a cure or, at best, a treatment for this deadly virus rests squarely on the shoulders of the medical world, of which Nigeria is no exception.
“In a bid to discover a cure, therefore, the public has witnessed quite a number of claims from different quarters – complementary and alternative medicine practitioners, traditional healers, and the academia. It is pertinent to note, however, that these claims are domiciled in either the conventional news media or the social media.
“NAFDAC, as of the time of this press release, has only received an application from one company for a product the company is presenting (for approval) to the agency for the treatment of the symptoms of COVID-19, and not for the cure of COVID-19 as a disease.”
Adeyeye explained that a claim of a cure must be subjected to clinical evaluation through well-controlled, randomised clinical trials, following an approved clinical trial protocol.
She said, “That Africa as a continent is blessed with diverse plants and herbs that constitute a source of food and medicine is incontrovertible. The drugs of today’s modern society are products of research and development by major pharmaceutical companies.
“Among the most important raw materials researched and developed are naturally occurring materials obtained especially from plants. It should be mentioned also, however, that many plants are similarly very poisonous.
“As the agency that has been saddled with the mandate of safeguarding the health of the citizenry, NAFDAC will continue to make sure that only medicinal product (including herbal remedies) that has proven safety data will be approved for use by the public.”
According to her, the agency currently lists herbal medicines based on historical perspectives on the use of the products after carrying out toxicological and microbiological evaluations in the laboratories to ensure that they are, at the minimum, safe.
She added that the listing status was valid for two years and renewable.
Adeyeye stated, “It does not validate the efficacy claims being made for the products hence, the labels must bear a disclaimer informing the consumer, ‘The claims have not been evaluated by NAFDAC’. This minimum requirement of ‘proof of safety’ is the agency’s way of encouraging production of herbal remedies from the country’s rich diversity of plants.
“Part of the efforts to advance herbal products development informed the setting up of the Nigerian Herbal Medicine Product Committee by the DG, NAFDAC.
“The platform brings together manufacturers, academia, researchers and relevant stakeholders by bridging the gap often created between traditional medicine practitioners (possible patent holders) and drug manufacturers, whose responsibility it would be to formulate the products.”
But the PSN Secretary General, Duru, said the Federal Government was not doing enough to encourage production of COVID-19 drugs in the country.
Duru said, “People are saying, ‘We are here, we can do this.’ The Ministry of Health just made available a cough syrup that can be used to ameliorate the kind of cough you have in COVID-19 patients.
“That drug now has been sent to NAFDAC for it to validate, list that drug after clinical trials and tell the producer it can be brought into the market for use.
“If you go to the NIPRD also, it has a lot of research products on its shelves and nobody is looking its way. It has malaria medicines, antiviral medicines, and cough syrups that only require money to develop them into products.”
‘Earmark part of COVID-19 funds for research’
According to him, all the Federal Government needs to do is devote a portion of the COVID-19 funds to research.
The PSN secretary noted that the Department of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, under the Ministry of Health, was “established to develop raw active ingredients that can be formulated into drugs that can be taken.”
Duru added, “What the PSN is saying is that the Federal Government is free to get whatever (drug) it wants into the country to solve our problem, but then, it cannot ignore relevant (Nigerian) professors.
“Prof Maurice Iwu has his own product he wants the Federal Government to look at. Nobody is saying we should just bring it out just like that and start taking it. But there are protocols.
“If our researchers’ products are subjected to the right protocols, clinical trials list them and keep those ones, then you would understand them.”
The Secretary General of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr Olumuyiwa Odusote, called on the federal and state governments to fund COVID-19 research in their quests to find a cure for the virus.
Odusote, in an interview said funding local researchers and inventors would help in finding a solution to COVID-19 in the country.
He stated “We don’t know the extent the government is going, so it will be difficult to say whether they are doing enough or not. What they should probably have done was to get stakeholders together and give grants to fund research. Finding a cure in Nigeria will cost money, and that means a lot of Nigerians probably will not be able to do anything regarding finding a cure without having capital.
“For example at the beginning, a lot of people came up with fabricated gadgets to help in hand hygiene. But you know those things cannot materialise until they are funded. The inventor can do one or two prototypes but in order to mass produce them, there is the need for a lot of funds.”
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Katsina State chapter of the NMA, Dr Muhammed Abdulazeez, on Wednesday, said that 20 health workers in the state were among those who tested positive for COVID-19.
He disclosed this while reacting to the death of the Medical Director of General Hospital, Mani, Dr Kabir Tijani. Tijani died on Tuesday and was buried the same day at 6.30pm.
The NMA chairman said circumstances surrounding the medical director’s death had yet to be determined, adding that results of samples taken from him for laboratory tests were being awaited.
Abdulazeez said, “Dr.Tijani died on Tuesday and we buried him at 6.30 pm same day following all protocols stipulated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
“We are not too certain he died of COVID-19.It would be more logical when the case is confirmed. We have taken samples for laboratory tests and the results are being awaited. You need to have an evidence-based conclusion. But we took every precaution and protocol spelt out by the NCDC during the burial as we did not want to take unnecessary chances.
“Initially, we have 14 health workers affected by the COVID-19. But, now, we have additional six, making the total number of health workers affected to be 20.”
The NMA chairman urged government to make available more personal protective equipment to health workers for their safety and protection.
He said, “The state government is trying but it needs to do more in curtailing the COVID-19 in the state. The state should build more isolation centres. The state also needs to quarantine any suspected COVID-19 patient even before the results carried on the fellow is out.
Also, the state government is using community leaders for COVID-19 contact tracing.
It was gathered that community leaders were given phone numbers of the state COVID-19 task force members for better communication.
The Chairman of the state Public Enlightenment Committee on COVID-19, Abdulkarim Sirika, said samples of 800 contacts had already been taken for tests.
In Kano State, the task force on COVID-19 says stigmatisation of patients is one of the major challenges the state is facing in contact tracing.
The state Coordinator, Dr Tijjani Husain, in an interview on Wednesday, said, “Stigma is still an issue but we are continuing with contact tracing, identifying and following contacts so as to identify early those that developed symptoms, get them tested and put them on treatment.
On its part, the Ogun State Government said it had contacted over 10,000 people as a result of COVID-19 cases in the state.
The Special Adviser to the Governor on Public Communications, Remmy Hazzan, said this on Wednesday.
He said, “In terms of contract tracing, we have done very well in Ogun State and of course, it is not a finishing line here, we have to continue. More than 10,000 contacts we have had, more are still being traced.”
Meanwhile, the NCDC on Wednesday stepped up efforts to enforce guidelines released by the PTF last month.
As part of the efforts, the centre released phone numbers whistleblowers could call if people violated guidelines aimed at checking the spread of the virus.
The task force at many of its press briefings frowned upon the manner Nigerians were violating the guidelines, including compulsory use of face masks, the ban on interstate movements and gathering of more than 20 people.
On its twitter handle on Wednesday, the NCDC stated, “If someone in your area is putting others at risk by refusing to self-isolate; reopening a school, bar, club and hosting a gathering of more than 20 people, call your state numbers.”