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How science can expedite solution to COVID-19 problem – Experts

Scientists and researchers have stated that the scientific approach is key when dealing with a global public health issue.

They said that the use of science in policy-making is now imperative to providing solutions to infectious diseases like COVID-19.

The experts, which include President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Prof. Innocent Ujah and President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Mosto Onuoha, said only science can help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

They warned that without the deployment of science, there will be no respite to the disease in the country.

Speaking in an interview Ujah urged the Federal Government to prioritise science in tackling COVID-19 pandemic in the country, noting that there is an urgent need for more capacity development and continuous training.

He said, “You would have noticed that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weak health system in the country; it shows that we are really below what we thought we were in all components – in provision of palliative, capacity building; and it is because we are not ready.

“If we are ready, using the scientific process, we would have done better. They should bring science to bear in response to COVID-19, rather than politics.

“The political will is there but we need more capacity development, continuous training and provision of consumables, including the personal protective equipment because we need to protect our health workers.”

Ujah also said there is a need to pay better attention to the health sector, particularly in the area of funding.

“We have been advocating that the Federal Government set a target of allocating at least 15 per cent of the annual budget to improve the health sector as recommended in 2001.

“The budget for the health sector is not enough. What we are facing is health-related and we need to prioritise the health sector,” Ujah said.

Also, the President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Mosto Onuoha said only science can help tackle COVID-19.

“There is no way you can cope without bringing in science; there is just no way. It’s science that can help tackle COVID-19. It’s only science and technology that will help to find the drugs or the vaccine.

“If we have the drug for it, like malaria or typhoid, then this lockdown will end because if you test positive, they will just give you the medication and everyone will start going his or her own way and that’s because we have studied about malaria.

“For coronavirus, it is the science that is revealing to us how it is transmitted. By the time we get the vaccination for it, it is science that will help us and it will become a non-issue with time. It’s science that has the complete answer,” he said.

Onuoha commended the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control for doing a good job in dissemination of messages and risk communication.

“Right now, Nigerians are trying to find effective local therapies. A lot of practitioners have come forward earlier, like Prof. Maurice Iwu, who is a very well-known scientist. A lot of people have been working on local plants and extracting materials.

“Also, at the Academy of Science, we are working on finding effective local therapies for this virus. Just like when you heard of what Madagascar did, we know Nigeria can do it too,” Onuoha added.

According to him, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology is making serious efforts to obtain local therapies and get them tested.

“This is because you can’t just come and say you have a mixture and that if I take it, it will work. Even if it works, we need to know what it is and know the dosages and that’s when science comes into it.

“As I speak to you, there are many organisations spending millions of dollars on research to find the vaccine for this coronavirus and about six have been identified to likely work but they are not yet through because they have to be sure. So clinical trials have to go on”

Onuoha added there is a need for conducting continuous research.

He said, “Even if the pandemic ends, as we hope, in a couple of months, we have to continue to work because we don’t know another one that will come. A few years ago, it was Ebola and if we had deployed some of the lessons of Ebola, we might not have been caught unprepared.”

An epidemiologist at Havard University, Dr. Ibraheem Abioye, said one way Nigeria can bring science to bear is to embed randomised controlled trial in patient care – provided the medication is deemed safe.

“Some studies – well designed, ethical, and with practical implications – can be cheaply embedded within the COVID-19 response. Some of these can relate to how the NCDC organises some of its activities. This field is known as implementation science. It can cover the decision to incorporate media campaigns, and how they’re delivered; it can cover the introduction of technologies to improve upon contact tracing, dissemination of COVID-19 information, etc,” he said.

Abioye said NCDC tailors its response in Nigeria to World Health Organisation guidelines and WHO tends to be guided by the best available evidence; and in general, it tends to be very rigorous and conservative.

“So, I do believe that many central aspects of the response are based on the best available science. Recently, for instance, based on the review of all the evidence that’s accrued, it was determined that retesting patients at the time of discharge from isolation centres was not really necessary. NCDC, therefore, changed their guidelines on that basis.

“The aspects I’m most concerned about are the ways in which we can bring science to bear to tailor the response appropriately,” Abioye said.

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