We, as founding members of AMATA, representing patients, academia, civil society, and industry, welcome the official ratification of the AMA Treaty, which has enabled the African Medicines Agency to effectively enter into force today.
We now call on the African Union to build on the current momentum gained with the legal deposition of instrument of ratification of the Treaty by the minimum required 15 AU Member States, to prepare for the practical implementation of the Agency, ensuring the following critical elements:
The African Medicines Agency Governing Board to recognise patients as key partners in the management structures and development of the Agency.
A solid governance structure is put in place and a seamless transition from the AMRH to the AMA is ensured.
Robust regulatory infrastructures continue to be strengthened in all African Union Member States and at regional level.
A Secretariat is formed, and its location is decided without undue delay.
The African Medicines Agency is equipped with adequate human resource capacity to operationalise its mandate.
The African Medicines Agency Governing Board to set up a framework of engagement with non-state actors and to draw upon all available expertise from academia, research bodies, private sector and community and patient groups to provide technical guidance on specific areas.
A sustainable funding model is implemented to ensure short and long term stability of the Agency at the time of its inception.
We congratulate the 15 Member States of the African Union that completed the process of ratification and invite all remaining AU Member States to follow in their footsteps.
COVID-19 has demonstrated that health security will only be achieved through concerted efforts and cross-border collaboration.
We thus call on all AU Heads of State to seize this historic opportunity to have one regulatory affairs oversight across the Continent to enhance national, regional and continental regulation of medical products and oversee rapid and effective market authorization of safe, quality, effective and accessible medical products, for the good of all African people.
In May 2020, Speak Up Africa joined together with Globesight to launch the bi-weekly #StaySafeAfrica COVID-19 tracker, as part of the #StaySafeAfrica campaign. The campaign brought together partners, journalists, civil society organizations, private-sector companies and country and local leaders to work towards our common goal of saving lives by increasing investments and awareness to protect our continent from COVID-19 while ensuring access and treatment from other ongoing health threats.
Focused on the African continent, the tracker, which was powered by Globesight, provided timely and relevant news updates as well as analysis of key philanthropic efforts and institutional responses to COVID-19 across the public, private, philanthropic, and multilateral sectors in the African continent. From vaccination efforts and latest COVID-19 figures to pan-African and regional spotlights, the tracker provided a comprehensive overview of the ever-evolving COVID-19 situation in Africa for the past year.
The #StaySafeAfrica COVID-19 trackers added significant value to our understanding of context-specific strategies to emerging health crises, and of [funding mechanisms and opportunities for LMICs, as well as perspectives into trends at play in the aid and philanthropic sectors. They gave real-time insight into the inequality demonstrated in response and preparedness to health crises in LMICs compared to advanced economies. As the African continent encountered multiple waves of COVID-19, the trackers highlighted calls for vaccine equity and innovative solutions for more sustainable health systems in Africa. The tracker also showcased Q&As developed by Meedan, to further inform the audience on the most asked questions about COVID-19.
After a successful run with over 35 trackers sent out to a database of over 800 subscribers, the #StaySafeAfrica COVID-19 tracker concluded in October 2021. We are grateful for the support it received and hope that the tracker proved to be a useful tool in helping improve access to information.
The Stay Safe Africa campaign is now building trust in vaccines among the general public to promote uptake, while simultaneously advocating for equitable access to these vaccines to support the World Health Organization, and national governments’ response plans. #StaySafeAfrica aims to strengthen Africa’s capacity to develop and adopt innovative solutions to the continent’s biggest health challenges.
|Access the campaign archive as a resource
However, despite these achievements, we still have so much to work towards and overcome. Our public health systems need further investment, we need greater funding for research and development to find new ways to treat diseases like trachoma and malaria, and we must scale up lifesaving public health interventions that protect communities across the continent. It was for this very reason that I decided to start Speak Up Africa almost ten years ago. As a specialised advocacy action tank, through our platforms and relationships, and with the help of our dedicated partners, we ensure that policy makers meet implementers; that both issues and solutions are showcased; and that everyone – from communities and civil society organizations to business leaders – play their part in contributing towards a healthier and more prosperous Africa.
And the past year has shown us just how essential it is that all levels of society play their part in protecting health. As the COVID-19 pandemic struck, everyone – from public health leaders to community health workers – showed incredible commitment and made sure that communities were protected and treated for COVID-19. At Speak Up Africa, we launched our Stay Safe Africa campaign, to empower communities and individuals to take simple and proven prevention measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in Africa. As part of the campaign, we’ve also drawn attention to the importance of vaccine equity and advocated for greater African manufacturing capabilities to meet demand.
Championing African solutions for African challenges is something that we have continued to dedicate our time and resource to, firstly through the launch of our African Voices of Science initiative, which aims to provide a platform for trusted African science leaders and health experts to share reliable information with African populations. The COVID-19 crisis laid bare the importance for local experts to be providing sound information to help people interpret data and guidance, understand risks, and appropriately respond to their local content, and so we are delighted to work with a range of fantastic experts to amplify their credible voices, perspectives and potential solutions to our health concerns.
Secondly the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award, in partnership with the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Companies, IFPMA), which seeks to highlight and support the work of pioneering young African entrepreneurs developing health innovations that can make a real difference to healthcare workers. The award is an important investment in the human capital of Africa’s promising young entrepreneurs, and we look forward to awarding these fantastic innovators later this year.
Ahead of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) day this Friday, we are also proud to continue our important work on MHM through our “Menstrual Hygiene Management: from taboo to economic power” campaign with our partner KITAMBAA. This project seeks to break the silence around menstruation and empower women and girls to urge leaders to implement public policies that account for women’s needs. This is another important initiative that engages African citizens in the decision-making process, ensuring that these solutions work for those they are intended for. Our continent and its people have so much to offer, which is why it is essential to have continued African ownership, leadership and partnership. I am proud that Speak Up Africa plays its role in amplifying African voices across the continent, and I truly believe that by embracing our power, utilising our best and brightest, and shouting loud and clear, we will be able to strengthen our continent and transform the public health agenda.
Yacine Djibo, Founder and Executive Director, Speak Up Africa
Nigeria’s frontline vaccine researcher, Dr. Clement Meseko of the National Veterinary Research Institute speaks on the process of vaccine production, the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine and the role of Nigerian scientists in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. In this interview, he debunked various myths and misconceptions about the vaccines and tells why vaccines are God’s miracle to save humans. Chiamaka Ozulumba brings excerpts
Interestingly, before I became a researcher, which is like 18years down the line, I had worked before then for five years, marketing and distributing veterinary anti-infectives and vaccines to stockholders, what my job was then was the delivery of animal health product, including drug and vaccines to livestock owners, to animals both for domestic and pets. I had been someone that has marketed or someone that promotes and markets vaccines because of the advantage. You know in therapeutics in the life’s science in our attempt to find solutions to infectious diseases, two major things historically has been very effective, one is chemotherapeutic, that was the advent of antibiotics, so you know that before the advent of antibiotics, people get sick, people get infections and there were no cure until that magic bullet was discovered.
Another major one that has ever happened to mankind is the development of vaccines. You know what vaccine is? Vaccine is a product of what is causing the disease. For instance if I am developing a vaccine now, I use the very virus, the very bacteria, the very agent that is responsible for the infection to develop my vaccine. So, the kind of method is that the agent that is causing the disease in its infectious state can cause a lot of havoc, so you will get that particular virus and you inactive it, it means you render it incapable of causing infection, however, it is still like an antigen that the body will still recognise, so the body recognize it and produce antibodies against it, so that peradventure you are exposed to a similar infection in the future, the antibodies that has been produced in response to the stimulation by the ineffectious agents is there to prevent the infection from taking place. So, while I was marketing vaccines and drugs for five years, I saw that there was a lot of disease maladies, what my next inclination was to get involved in the research aspect of the vaccines and drugs that I am used to marketing, that was how I joined the research institute, and for the last 18 years I have been involved in research into virology, vaccinology and finding solutions to problems of infectious diseases.
So to me, Vaccine is one great miracle that God has provided, unfortunately because of ignorance and the need to get more of this knowledge across to the public so that they will appreciate that vaccine is a very potent tool that God has given us so that we can be free from a lot of maladies.
As you probably would have found out from my profile, I am veterinarian before I became a virologist. And being a virologist, I have a kind of diversity in the areas of vaccination, there has been a lot of vaccines that has been produced in this country before it was stopped, like the human vaccine, the yellow fever vaccine, but at the moment the only vaccines that are been produced in Nigeria are vaccines that are targeted for animal health, so most of my research had been on veterinary vaccines but it will interest you to know that about 25 veterinary vaccines have been produced in Nigeria, the one that you can relate to is the rabies vaccine, rabies is the kind of disease that affect animal and human, the major animal carrier of rabies in Nigeria is dog, occasionally we find it in bats, but the one we are most exposed to in Nigeria is dog, it is often said that 99% of human exposure to rabies is due to dog bite, so we have this virus in dog and the dog also contract it from other sources, it could be from wild life, it could be from rodents, it could be from other mammals in the wild, and so when it gets into the dog the dog gets sick, and you hear about mad dog, that is how severe the infection is, the dog becomes mad until it dies, so the same thing happens if the dog bites the human being, the human being becomes so hyperactive and express a lot of nervous disorder and eventually dies, so it is a fatal disease that kills as it gets into the host, it kills the dog, it kills the human.
The good news is that there is a vaccine that has been developed for rabies, so if you have your dog vaccinated, even when this dog contracts rabies it will not affect the dog and if the dog is protected, the likelihood of the dog transmitting to human is nill and besides the dog rabies vaccines that is used in Nigeria, we at the National Veterinary Institute in Nigeria developed the rabies vaccines, we produce it, it is being used, and it is fully commercialised. But there are other vaccines for human rabies, pre and post exposure human rabies vaccines, we don’t have that in Nigeria, but if a human being is immunised just the same way the dog is immunised, the human will be protected. So what better advantage could we have, you have a disease that is almost 100 per cent fatal so it means if anybody is bitten by a rabies dog, the person will most likely die but if the person is vaccinated, the person stands a chance of surviving. So we produce a lot of veterinary related vaccines in Nigeria, it is the same process for any other vaccine development, it is the same principles and the same outcome, it is just the host that differs.
Since the onset of COVID 19, scientists have been very busy, at the government level, federal ministry of health, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), human right agencies and many other agencies; we formed a lot of consortium, the National COVID 19 Research Consortium, so within this consortium there are a lot of thematic areas, knowing that COVID 19 emerged from animal, there are groups that are trying to find out the relationship with animals, there are groups that are involved in attempt to find a cure and case management, there are groups that are involved with the epidemiology of COVID 19, there are groups concerned with development of vaccines, many groups are still being formed, interestingly, I am part of some of these groups, so you know the way we work in science, if you have an idea, you are asked to write a proposal about what you want to do and how you want to do it and what it will take for you to do it, so if your proposal is found worthy, then you can be given a grant, so we have submitted a lot of proposal as individuals and collectively.
So we have recently also formed a consortium between some agencies like the Usman Danfodio University, the National Institute for Medical Research and the Nigeria Veterinary Research Institute, we are forming different kinds of coalition and writing for grants, seeking for grants, because vaccine development is not a small business, it requires a lot of financing, so if any of these grant is awarded we hope that we can move to the next stage. Some of these consortiums like to take advantage of existing infrastructure; there are also newer technologies for vaccines development. In the old ways of making vaccines you take a whole organism that is responsible for the disease, you inactive it, so you have a whole virus that is a vaccine, over time you don’t need the whole virus, these days you take a minor portion of the virus and now look for the vector, essentially that was how the AstraZeneca vaccine was developed, they just took a portion of COVID-19 and inserted it into another virus that is not pathogenic, that is mild, that will not cause disease in human, that can replicate, in the cause of its replication it is also replicating the antigen of the COVID-19, so all these technologies are available and researchers in Nigeria are capable of all these explorations and another advantage that we have is that at the National Veterinary Research Institute, that we have produced 25 vaccines in the last 100 years, we have infrastructure in place that can scale up vaccine production, so if the technology is developed today and we are looking for where scaling up of production can be done, we have places in Nigeria that can be enhance and can readily fit into the process, because for how long can we depend on importation of vaccines, imagine the kind of population that we have, so we have vaccinated about 1 million persons in Nigeria, they have taken the first dose, they will still need the second dose, so we are doing like less than 0.5% of the population, so there is that need to develop local capacities so a lot of research is going on and a lot of proposals have been written. We are hoping that some of these proposals can be favorably received and grants will be awarded and allow Nigerian scientists to step up and see what they can do in respect to COVID-19 research and development.
As I mentioned earlier, apart from CBN, we have grants opportunities from TETFUND, private sectors like Dangote Groups and others, they are also organising to see how they can contribute, so we are also channeling some of the grant proposals to them to see how they can fund some of these things; concept notes have been developed, proposals have been written. So, the Nigeria COVID-19 Research Coalition, we have actually designed for immediate response on how scientists can have themselves organized, the group have been organised along several thematic areas of research, some of which also involves vaccine research and development, there are those who are charged with responsibility of resource mobilisation, another arm is also responsible for managing the scientific world, they handle the proposals that other scientists write, they are then subjected to peer review, amendment will be made, it will then be subjected to external review, then it will now be passed to the resource mobilisation who will now seek for organizations including government and non-governmental who can fund the research so that is the goal, it is just that some process can be slow, but I can assure you that such is ongoing.
Most times in the past when there is outbreak of a new disease it goes on for a long time before the research commence, first of all you try to understand the disease itself, the pathogenicity, the epidemiology and all the biological characteristics, before you now think of isolating the pathogens and seeking to develop a vaccine and when the vaccine is developed, it goes through series of testing, starting from animal testing, clinical trials; phase 1, phase 2, phase 3, all these takes a long time. So at the end of the day, the vaccines take about 10 to 20 years before they are developed but the interesting thing with the COVID-19 is that the time for developing the vaccine is short, which is one of the reasons why people are skeptical about the vaccine which naturally should not be because technology have improved over time. Technological advancement has sped up discovery and development, one advantage too is that some of the companies that developed the vaccines have been used to vaccines for influenza, influenza is another kind of respiratory virus that has similarities with COVID-19.
As a matter of fact those of us in the sciences, virologists, we have always known that a pandemic will soon emerge, when we were marking the 100 years of the Spanish flu, we had suspected that a pandemic will soon emerge, all the factors were there, and for me who had always done research on influenza, I had thought that the next pandemic will emerge from influenza, now it didn’t happen with influenza, it happened with corona virus, so we were not surprised that a pandemic emerged. So those countries and those agencies already have platform for producing influenza vaccine, the infrastructure, capacity and expertise are on-ground, that is what is lacking in Nigeria, research have been poorly developed, our infrastructure has not been maintained and so when it comes to the need for vaccine development our efforts cannot be as rapid as we have it in the developed countries because their infrastructure is there, it is not that we cannot develop vaccines of these magnitude, we can, but it wouldn’t be fast.
So the lesson is that there is a need to strengthen infrastructure and fund research much more than it is currently been done in the country because problems like COVID-19 may still come in the future, so we must strengthen our institutions, empower our scientists, so that when there is a problem like this they will be up to the task, so eventually we may be able to in-house develop a COVID-19 vaccine but it can’t be as fast as it is done in other advanced countries but of course technology can aid in making it more rapid that we ever expected.
When you have a higher number of population of people being vaccinated, at least 70 per cent of people are protected in the population, the virus will die out or it will have no new host to infect and so there will be a herd immunity and the population will be protected, so the least we want for most of these vaccine is to give a potency of 70 per cent and as far as the whole of the population can be protected up to 70 per cent the chances of COVID 19 spreading within the population is reduced, in terms of such potency, it varies, but so far what they have presented is good enough, there are more studies going on to know how long the antibodies will remain in the body before they will need a booster immunity and science also reviews itself, science does not claim it has found a cure or a solution that cannot be reviewed.
And then in terms of safety, I told you I have taken the vaccine, and a couple of my friends have also taken the vaccines.
Apart from the pain I had on the injection side for like three days, I didn’t have any other reaction, but some of my friends said they had fever, and nausea feeling, it is nothing unusual from the regular most of the time. It is a function of our body constitution, the way we react is different, and so it is within the range that is considered normal. Even with this vaccine, they have said may be it is not for everybody, probably if you have particular condition you may not have to take the vaccine but in the long run, the idea is that it is safer to take the vaccine than not take the vaccine because most people who take the vaccine will develop antibodies that will be able to restrict infection than people who may not take the vaccine, who I may consider as naïve population at the end of the day they have encounter the virus which may cause calamity.
The first thing to say is that it is healthy for scientists to disagree, we don’t all have to agree, that is why we have peer review, science grows by critic, even after your research, you have colleagues who have better ways of doing the research, so it is normal in the science community. So for those who think that there are chips and sterile components in the vaccine, one of the things they have failed to do if they are truly scientists is to show us the data, what research have they done? they can share the data, they can present it and when it comes to peer review, when it is identified that way, even me, I will believe that this component intentionally or not intentionally became part of the vaccine so to rely on theories and hypothesis is not scientific, you have to bring up data, it is the data that speaks.
I was reading in the news that of all countries in the world, it is Israel that has the highest rate of population that has been vaccinated, so what they did is to lower the use of face mask in the public, so if you are in Israel today you probably will not need to use face mask in the public because more than 70 per cent of their population have been vaccinated and they have also seen in their data that the rate of infection and the rate of death due to COVID 19 has drastically dropped, so until every other country get to that level, we would need to still continue with all the COVID 19 rules, because in Nigeria for instance we have only succeeded in vaccinating a fraction, only a small fraction of the population, even with the first dose, not even the second dose, so we are still a long way far from attaining the 70% herd immunity level that is required.
Maybe, maybe not, it may not be entirely so, ignorance is one of the bane in Nigeria, we are too superstitious in Africa to certain degree, adding to that, the way we practice our faith in terms of what we believe and how religion affect our life also have impact on the decision and our response. So even if the vaccine was developed by Nigerian scientist it will still not change the attitude of some people, But I think we need to do more, we need to get people to understand, particularly within the science community, we need to have a conversation with the public to make them understand what the process is all about, I think if people know more their faith will be strengthened.
Yes it is, the polio vaccine is still like the whole organism kind of vaccine, the whole organism in the sense that you have to isolate the virus, then you deactivate the virus; it can no longer cause disease but it can stimulate antibody production that will be able to neutralize the virus, however there has been so much technological advancement that hastens the process of vaccines production, that was why I said the COVID 19 vaccine is faster in its development. The AstraZeneca vaccine is a vector vaccine, a vector and subjugate vaccine in the sense that it is not the whole organism of corona virus that is taken, it is a portion of the virus that is taken to a vector, another virus that is not pathogenic, that virus can still replicate, that is the process of AstraZeneca, meanwhile there are other higher technology for vaccine production, called the DNA technology and that is what the Pfizer and Modena brand, they went deeper to take more refined aspect of the virus, which is the RNA, the MRNA, so for me if you draw a line from 1 to 10 in terms of refining, then you say the polio vaccine is around 3, the AstraZeneca vaccine is around 7 and then the Pfizer and Modena brand is like 8 to 9 in terms of refinement, so you are taking the finest particle aspect of this organism to make vaccine.
Yes, it has to do with costs and handling, even the cooling capacity is lacking in Africa, for instance you need an ultra low cooling facility like -80, there are few places in Nigeria for such -80 cooling system, meanwhile the AstraZeneca vaccine can be held for storage at -20, that is the normal refrigerator temperature so it is the handling, so you can imagine if the Pfizer vaccine is brought to Nigeria and you don’t have the facilities to hold it, at the end of the day the whole vaccine will go bad, so it is related to cost and handling capacity.
To assure you about the potency and give you the assurance that the vaccines are safe, I myself have taken the vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine because I am among the frontline health workers, in the sense that I am involved in the diagnoses and management of COVID 19, I go to the lab, I handle the virus, so as part of my protection, I have taken the vaccine and then talking of the potency, when the vaccine was developed by the company, Pfizer gave their rate as far as 95 per cent, none of them gave a 100 per cent potency.
Christian Tientcha Happi, is a Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics and the Director of African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) at the Redeemers University. He has a BSc. in Biochemistry, MSc and PhD in Molecular Parasitology from the University of Ibadan in 1993, 1995 and 2000. He is one of the leading lights in the field of science in Africa and has carried out research with focus on Human Genomics, Molecular Biology and Genomics of Infectious Disease like Lassa Fever, Malaria and Ebola. His laboratory confirmed the first case of Ebola in Nigeria and he has been working diligently on helping to end the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria by developing a rapid testing kit that could reveal the result in 15 minutes.
My name is Professor Christian Tientcha Happi, a Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics in the Department of Biological Sciences, and the Director African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Redeemers University. I hold a BSc in Biochemistry, MSc and PhD in Molecular Parasitology from the University of Ibadan in 1993, 1995 and 2000 respectively. I did my post-doctoral research in Molecular Biology and Genomics at the Harvard University, School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA (2000-2003). I’m currently the Director, Directorate of Research Innovations and Partnerships (DRIPs), Redeemers University.
My research focus is on Human Genomics, Molecular Biology and Genomics of Infectious Diseases, especially Malaria, Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (Lassa fever, Ebola Virus Disease, and others), and HIV.
My current research activities consist of using innovative approaches that combines patient care, fieldwork, laboratory, molecular biology and genomics methods for discoveries that have shifted the paradigm in clinical research and applications in parasites and viral diagnosis, parasites biology and genomics, Pharmacogenomics, and human genomics. In addition, I am passionate about building research capacity and human resource through training and mentoring activities.
Through my research, we have been able to identify molecular markers of antimalarial drug resistance in Plasmodium falciparum, the agent of malaria. We recently discovered new viruses (EKV-1 and EKV-2, and developed new rapid diagnoses for Ebola virus disease (EVD), and Lassa fever virus.
My laboratory confirmed the first case of Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria in the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and work with Nigerian Health Officials for the successful containment of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria.
Research work in my laboratory contributed significantly to the establishment of the global reference for human genetic variation. Our research work has also resulted in identification of new genes associated with human resistance to infection of Lassa fever virus.
I have been working in the space of infection diseases in the past 22 years, across West Africa and on Lassa fever, Ebola, monkey pox, yellow fever and coronavirus.
The genomic works that I have been doing over the past 12 years on haemorrhagic fever is mainly to understand the nature of the virus and leverage those information and translate it to tools like a point of care diagnostic, also things like a vaccine, we are also very much involved in capacity building, so we set up one of the best genomic platforms where we are training what we call a critical mass of young Africans.
So, the Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomic Infectious Diseases that I am the founder and Director is designed to create what we call academic and research environment that transcend national boundaries, where young Africans can actually use that platform to express their God-given talent and then use such platform to do genomics for public health, development of the continent so in so doing, we are basically focusing on training what we refer to as critical mass African scientists that can annex the knowledge and skill, tools of genomic to address problem of infectious disease and specifically control and elimination, eradiation of infectious disease. In addition to that we are building a new genomic curriculum that is applicable to infectious disease. Also we are engaging public health community in education.
That is what we have been doing in the past decade; overall our goal is basically to build the next generation of what is called African pathogen hunters, doing this in Africa, with Africa in collaboration with friends, colleague and partners outside, so that we can stop playing what I call orphans instead of defence. Because what we see today, is that anytime there is outbreak or epidemic of diseases somewhere the world start battling, but I think now we need to start thinking of how we can use the skill and knowledge that we have to start uncovering those virus and develop counter measures before they come to us.
That is the counter measure we are taking now and we are going to be leveraging on platform and skill, talent we are grooming.
We are able to develop one of the fastest rapid diagnostic test kit for covid-19 in the world, prior to that within five days or a week after the first case of covid was announced in Nigeria, we were able to come up with e-sub-screening test tools in Nigeria and link that up with other local governments and Yaba Hospital.
Then we went on to develop the rapid diagnostic test kit for covid, how did we do that? We did that because we were the lab that reconfirmed the very first case in Lagos that was tested by PCR, Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) sent the sample to us and we were able to confirm it.
We did that speedily. We set up the record that nobody is ever able to beat in the world, from sample collection to releasing of data on the international genomic platform call G-SET, it took us 72 hours. This process usually take weeks but we did it in 72 hours. And it is based on that particular sequence and other sequence that follow that we went on to develop the diagnose test kit.
This test kit is actually faster and cheaper, in which within 10 minutes to 15 minutes you will have the result. You don’t need to collect blood sample, just saliva and you don’t need specialized laboratory. It is the test that is most adopted for Africa because you don’t need high specialized laboratory.
It is just like pregnancy test, another thing is that it target the virus RNA and it is very precise and specific.
I don’t think African countries see any value in research. African leaders promised that they are going to dedicate two percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to support research but they are not doing it, except in Rwanda that is dedicating about 0.5 percent towards research. So that definitely is a problem, you cannot make progress, as a nation if you do not fund education and research and that is the reason Africa is over dependent on other countries for everything.
It’s evident even during this covid-19 as we are over dependent on international communities for everything from Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), to Vaccine, we are depending on the international community. Africa’s independence will only come when they invest in research and take responsibility for their problem and start to look inward in finding solution to their problems.
It is obvious that we are at the mercy of different countries basically we do not produce anything, we are basically consumers not producers, that puts us in a weak and vulnerable position. That is the fact we can’t shy away from. The truth of the matter is, as long as Africa does not invest in research and develop her own capacity and addresses her own problems, we will continue to be weak and exploited and at the back of the queue.
The only way to do that is investment through the private sector and government establishment. Funding research is not only the responsibility of government, private sector also need to be involved but unfortunately in Africa, private sector investment is nothing on research. What you see in Africa is people that can invest in research refuse to do so, what they do is to go to Harvard or Cambridge to make donation, to institution where their money will not make any impact.
They ignore where they should put their money and go elsewhere because they have inferiority complex. If there is any lesson to learn I think they would have seen through this pandemic that it’s better to invest in your country than to go elsewhere because during the pandemic everybody was on lock down and they couldn’t fly around with private jet.
It’s clear that investment in research in Africa academic will be very helpful because Africa needs to develop. Secondly, when you look at Africa, one of the reasons Africa is stagnant is simply because there is no brain circulation in Africa. Knowledge in Africa is carnage, knowledge does not circulate in Africa. The reason why I’m saying this is because it’s a shame in Africa that we can’t have African research circulating moving from one country to another and sharing knowledge.
It is easier for an African to go to abroad to share knowledge than to share with an African counterpart.
Firstly, the COVID-19 vaccine is efficacious. And it has been demonstrated all over the world through people that take the vaccine, it protects them against the virus infection. The AstraZeneca vaccine that is in Nigeria, we should encourage people to take it.
I also understand the fears of the people because this vaccine is foreign so people are afraid. If anything to go by and African governments are listening, people in Africa are telling them that they don’t have confidence in vaccine that is coming from outside Africa. And the message is that fund vaccine that will emanate from Africa. I can tell you that Africans will be more comfortable if they hear that the vaccine emanated from Africa. I hope our government will listen to the masses.
The people are telling our leaders that they are tired of using imported things including vaccines and I am not against the vaccines because they are good and we should take it but the message is that we will trust vaccine made in Africa by our own researchers more than what is coming from outside.
That is why you are seeing vaccine resistance and apathy. People want to see what is made by their own people, so that they will be very comfortable to use it.
Covid-19 is real, people should take necessary safety measures and if we did not respect the safety rules it will be difficult to get rid of this disease even if vaccine is given out. Even with availability of vaccine, people should continue to protect themselves.
He did his post-doctoral research in Molecular Biology and Genomics at Harvard University, School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA (2000-2003). He is currently the Director, Directorate of Research Innovations and Partnerships (DRIPs), Redeemer’s University. He has carried out research focus on Human Genomics, Molecular Biology and Genomics of Infectious Diseases, especially Malaria, Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (Lassa fever, Ebola Virus Disease, and HIV among others. His laboratory confirmed the first case of Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria in the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and work with Nigerian Health Officials for the successful containment of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria. In this interview with JIMOH BABATUNDE, he talked about how they developed the rapid diagnostic test kit for covid, which can give result within 10 minutes to 15 minutes. He also talked about the need to encourage Nigerians to be vaccinated because the COVID-19 vaccine is efficacious and that it has been demonstrated all over the world that people that take the vaccine, protect themselves against the virus infection. Here is an excerpt from the interview.
My research focus is on Human Genomics, Molecular Biology and Genomics of Infectious Diseases, especially Malaria, Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (Lassa fever, Ebola Virus Disease, and others), and HIV. My current research activities consist of using innovative approaches that combine patient care, fieldwork, laboratory, molecular biology and genomics methods for discoveries that have shifted the paradigm in clinical research and applications in parasites and viral diagnosis, parasites biology and genomics, Pharmacogenomics, and human genomics. Also, I am passionate about building research capacity and human resource through training and mentoring activities. Through my research, we have been able to identify molecular markers of antimalarial drug resistance in Plasmodium falciparum, the agent of malaria. We recently discovered new viruses (EKV-1 and EKV-2 and developed new rapid diagnoses for Ebola virus disease (EVD), and Lassa fever virus. My laboratory confirmed the first case of Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria in the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and work with Nigerian Health Officials for the successful containment of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria. Research work in my laboratory contributed significantly to the establishment of the global reference for human genetic variation.
Our research work has also resulted in the identification of new genes associated with human resistance to infection to the Lassa fever virus. I have been working in the space of infectious diseases in the past 22 years, across west Africa Lassa fever, ebola, monkeypox, yellow fever and covid. The genomic works that I have been doing over the past 12 years hemorrhagic fever is mainly to understand the nature of the virus and leverage those information and translate it to tools like a point of care diagnostic, also things like a vaccine, we are also very much involved in capacity building, so we set up one of the best genomic platforms where we are training what we call a critical mass of young Africans so Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomic infectious diseases that I am the founder and director, is to create what we call academic and research environment that transcend national boundaries, where young Africans can actually use that platform to express their God-given talent and then use such platform to do genomics for public health, development of the continent so in so doing, we are basically focusing on training what we refer to as critical mass African scientists that can annex the knowledge and skill, tools of genomics to address problem of infectious disease and specifically control and elimination, eradication of infectious disease. In addition to that, we are building a new genomic curriculum that applies to infectious disease. Also, we are engaging the public health community in education. That is what we have been doing in the past decade; overall our goal is basically to build the next generation of what is called African pathogen hunters, doing this in Africa, with Africa in collaboration with friends, colleague and partners outside so that we can stop playing what I call orphans instead of defence. Because what we see today, is that anytime there is an outbreak or epidemic of diseases somewhere the world start battling, but I think now we need to start thinking of how we can use the skill and knowledge that we have to start uncovering those viruses and develop countermeasures before they come to us. That is the countermeasure we are taking now and we are going to be leveraging on platform and skill, the talent we are grooming.
We can develop one of the fastest rapid diagnostic test kits for covid-19 in the world, before that we did something five days or within a week after the first case of covid was announced in Nigeria, we can come up with e-sub-screening test tools in Nigeria and link that up with other local government and Yaba Hospital. Then we went on to develop the rapid diagnostic test kit for covid, how did we do that? We did that because we were the lab that reconfirmed the very first case in Lagos that was tested by PCR, NCDC sent the sample to us and we can confirm it. We did that speedily. We set up the record that nobody is ever able to beat in the world, from sample collection to releasing data on the international genomic platform call G-SET, it took us 72 hours. This process usually takes weeks but we did it in 72 hours. And it is base on that particular sequence and other sequences that follow that we went on to develop diagnose test kit. This test kit is faster and cheaper, in which within 10 minutes to 15 minutes you will have the result. You don’t need to collect a blood sample, just saliva and you don’t need a specialized laboratory. It is the test that is mostly adopted for Africa because you don’t need a highly specialized lab. It is just like a pregnancy test, another thing is that it targets the virus RNA and it is very precise and specific.
I don’t think African countries see any value in research, African leaders promised that they are going to dedicate 2 per cent of their GDP to support research but they are not doing it only a few countries like Rwanda are dedicating about 0.5 per cent towards research. So that is a problem, you can not make progress, as a nation if you do not fund education and research and that is the reason Africa is over-dependent on other countries for everything. It’s evident even during this covid-19 when we over-dependent on international communities for everything from PPE, to Vaccine, we are depending on international communities. Africa’s independence will only come when they invest in research and take responsibility for their problem and when they start to look inward in finding a solution to their problems.
As a trained medical doctor, a specialist in infectious diseases, and having experience in public health, I am particularly sympathetic to the plight of the medical and paramedical personnel working in Africa who have been at the fore of combating this global pandemic. They have fought courageously with great compassion and commitment, even at times when they were under-equipped, ill-prepared, and overwhelmed. They were also burdened with a mostly misinformed and unenlightened public as they fought hard to keep infection and mortality rates low.
It does not matter how tough things may currently be across the continent and even around the world, but we must continue to move forward, seeking solutions, working together, and building our resilience as we boldly travel the long road ahead of us. The journey to better sustainable infrastructure and relevant scientific and empirical research that provides not only the foundation for strong systems that will tackle health and social issues but foster a true culture of innovation and collaboration for Africa. I am proud to be a part of African platforms that have a keen focus on research, innovation, and collaboration. These platforms are creating sustainable ecosystems that are empowering and supporting young Africans to develop innovative solutions to enhance entrepreneurship and advance cutting-edge health care solutions out of Africa by Africans that could be also adapted for adoption beyond the continent.
I am President of the Scientific Committee of the Forum Galien where the Africa Young Innovators for Health Awards 2021 was launched. This Award is committed to enable and support young entrepreneurs to innovate in the field of health and be empowered to be the change agents they know they can be. Following a successful event in December 2020 that convened a large number of scientists and some promising young students to discuss their research and innovative work in healthcare, we are poised to fully explore the vast potential of young people to be great thinkers, innovators, and effective leaders.
However, as a woman who has been fortunate to rise to the top of my profession and serve in various national, Pan-African, and global capacities, it is difficult for me to be oblivious to the consistent occurrence of few females taking advantage of all the opportunities that are currently available to change the prevailing African narrative.
According to the European Union and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), women are also underrepresented in the field of science. Currently, less than 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women and only 30 percent of all female students select Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) related fields in higher education. This is a statistic that must change all over the world and especially for Africa, in order for us as a people to be able to fully harness the enormous potential of our youth population across various disciplines and not only in science. This becomes especially relevant as we approach March which has become ‘Women’s Month’, and the celebration of the International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8th with the global theme: Choose to Challenge.
This year’s IWD theme is incredibly apt as we are steadily becoming acquainted with a budding reality of women that are challenging the status quo and shattering the proverbial glass ceiling. From Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who served as the President of Liberia and is the first elected female Head of State in Africa, Kamala Harris becoming the first black female Vice-President of the United States, Sahle-Work Zewde who is currently the President of Ethiopia to Ngozi Okonjo Iweala who was recently confirmed as the first female and African to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO). This is all great news to be excited about but it is also a clear call to do more.
Female leadership participation around the world as well as in Africa is restricted. Women are underrepresented as voters, as well as in leading positions in elected and non-elected office, public service, the private sector, or academia. Despite challenges that the pandemic has seen in some cases for political gain, women need to seize this opportunity in areas such as policy advocacy that will incorporate increased female participation in politics at all levels (in Senegal process is being made, with 43% of the country’s MPs being female) as well as critical gender-responsive disaster management. This also presents an opportunity for African female and male political leaders in support of women to demonstrate transformational leadership within their communities in the new normal created by the pandemic.
We can all help to create an inclusive and empowered world particularly for young African women. From challenge comes change, and from great challenge comes even greater change, so let’s all choose to challenge even when it is unpopular and not self-serving.
Thumbi Mwangi, an infectious diseases epidemiologist, spoke on concerns around the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines, and specifically addressed drug efficacy due to the speedy lab-time turnaround.
The rapid development of the Covid-19 vaccines is the result of the deliberate elimination of historical limitations to the speed of making vaccines and rolling them out. It is not lack of comprehensive evaluation of the vaccine’s efficacy and safety. Put in context, before the Covid-19 vaccine, the development of mumps vaccine in the 1960s was hailed as the fastest vaccine to have been developed — taking four years from virus sampling to approval. Several factors have helped drastically reduce the time taken to get the Covid-19 vaccines compared to other vaccines. Here I focus on four of them.
Vaccine development is expensive with huge financial risks for companies. The availability of funding has had a number of benefits, including allowing companies to start manufacturing early on, making the vaccines immediately available following approval. Finally, Covid-19 is in every region and has impacted everyone to some degree. This provided unique advantages to the vaccine development including thousands of people volunteering for trials, and risking infection given the ease of the virus’ spread. These factors helped to make the data required to test efficacy of the vaccines and their safety more readily available than for other diseases.
We should appreciate what Covid-19 has helped emphasise — diseases don’t care for political boundaries. A public health threat anywhere can easily turn to be a public health threat everywhere. Vaccines work at two levels: at individual level — to prevent or minimise severity of disease in the vaccinated individual; and at population level — to minimise risk of a person in that population. The vaccinated individual will be protected, but the risk of disease in the unvaccinated people in the country with vaccination will be elevated by continuing to mix with individuals from countries not carrying out vaccination. Importantly, the country without vaccinations will have a higher burden of the disease. That country will take longer to return to normalcy and will have opted out of the most likely cost-effective method of dealing with the pandemic.
Currently, freedom from infections is not the realistic goal of Covid-19 vaccinations at population level for most regions in the world. Vaccinations will minimise hospitalisations, morbidity and deaths due to Covid-19 in any place or region that will vaccinate its people in sufficient numbers. Elimination of SARS-CoV2 infections would require sufficient administration of vaccines that block transmission of current and variants of the virus everywhere, and an excellent surveillance and response system that keeps all new infections away from a country. Otherwise, we are in this for the long haul.
We do not have all the answers yet. However, we can tell that, globally, Covid-19 is less severe among younger people and the majority of people on the African continent are young with fewer comorbidities that exacerbate Covid-19. The virus also spreads more effectively indoors and in densely populated areas. Most of the African population is in rural areas, in comparatively less dense areas, and living in climates that allow for more outdoor living. Another significant factor is that it took longer for the continent to get Covid-19 cases. This allowed countries to better prepare and implement stronger and quicker responses to the disease. Other schools of thought have it that regular exposure to other infections may have worked in our favour by providing a degree of protection from Covid-19. On this one, the jury is still out.
Individuals who get vaccinated, however small a proportion of the population they form, will be protected from the disease. That will reduce the disease. Is 15 percent sufficient to stop infections? The answer is no. To stop new epidemics of the disease in a population, it is estimated that about 60 percent of the population should be protected.
If the immunity against Covid-19 following vaccination wanes with time there will be need for continued vaccinations. This is not new as it is similar to our response to influenza viruses. As ever, our response to Covid-19 has been a series of huge learning curves.
Mwangi uses applied epidemiological modelling and data science to improve the speed and quality of policy decision making in human and animal health.
Senior Research Fellow, the University of Nairobi Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases; Associate Professor, Washington State University Paul G Allen School for Global Animal Health; Chancellor’s Fellow in Global Health, University of Edinburgh; Affiliate Fellow, African Academy of Sciences, and Affiliate Fellow, South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis.
Veterinarian from the University of Nairobi (2005) and a PhD in Infectious Disease Epidemiology from the University of Edinburgh (2012). His current research focuses on implementing research for elimination of dog-mediated human rabies, syndromic surveillance for early detection of zoonotic spillover, understanding transmission and control of zoonoses, livestock interventions for improvement of human nutritional status, and recently transmission dynamics and control of SARS-CoV2 in Kenya.
Read more on The East African website
The COVID-19 pandemic in Africa has arrived at a critical point. We are seeing increases in deaths and overwhelmed health systems, in countries that often lack the infrastructure to properly record cases and respond.
I see on the ground the toll all this is taking – on communities, on health workers and on vulnerable populations. West Africa is also dealing with more than one epidemic; as well as COVID-19, we have an ongoing security epidemic and the threat of another Ebola epidemic. COVID-19 has left us exposed and that increases the chances of other health threats snowballing and costing us at least a decade or more of progress. But there are green shoots of hope. Not the least of which is the incredible efficiency with which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed. These are incredible and inspiring achievements, and a lesson in global collaboration. But this spirit of collaboration is still needed as we move now to the crucial vaccine roll-out.
Our success in defeating the pandemic globally will depend on successfully defeating the virus everywhere. This means that the vaccine roll-out in the complex and insecure Sahel region will have to be implemented successfully. During my career in the field, in the trialling and development of vaccines, I have come to understand that the success of any vaccine and its roll-out begins and ends with the community. The importance of effective communication can never be underestimated. That is true now more than ever, as we see the effects of the infodemic that has accompanied the clinical pandemic. When working on the Ebola vaccine trial, for example, there were times when communities believed that we had come to infect them – and this sometimes led to our own lives being threatened. It took time, patience and close work with those communities to overcome their fears and misunderstandings. The COVID-19 vaccines will require the same patience and community engagement to ensure the required uptake of the vaccine.
Any vaccine campaign will also need to rely on a strong community health system. Rather than lurch from health crisis to health crisis, we now need to invest properly in our primary healthcare systems. Our community networks are best placed to identify those at risk; the people who live in and serve their communities are the ones who will reach populations and administer the vaccine.
Please, let us use this moment to start investing in robust data systems which will make our health systems more resilient to future health crises.Pr. Samba Sow
One vital aspect within that involves data. I fear that we do not understand, even now, the reach of COVID-19 in Africa, because of weak reporting systems and unreported deaths in the community. If we are to reach the communities most vulnerable to COVID-19, we need to understand who and where these people are and ensure their vaccinations are recorded – especially if second doses are needed. Please, let us use this moment to start investing in robust data systems which will make our health systems more resilient to future health crises. I know that logistics will be problematic too, of course they will. But I also know that Africa has excelled at campaigns in the past and have every faith that we will rise to the challenge this time too. I would only ask, again, that we make sure that investments in COVID-19 vaccine campaigns also enable us to build the foundations across West Africa that will enable us to see a positive legacy grow out of this terrible pandemic.
All of this, however, depends on vaccine availability – and this is perhaps the most basic question we now face. Already, discussions have begun about ensuring that all countries get their fair share of the global vaccine stock, and that we avoid a situation in which richer countries are able to stockpile vaccines, while countries of the global south largely go without. The COVAX facility, led by WHO, is a global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries regardless of economic status. This is crucial, not just as a way for low-income countries to access vaccines, but also for the global community to show its commitment to equity. Ultimately, epidemiology is a plea for equity. A commitment to vaccine equity isn’t just important for reasons of fairness or justice, it is a non-negotiable factor in ending the pandemic.
No country will be safe until all countries have been vaccinated.
Read more on CVD-Mali website
Several African football legends were part of the #StaySafeAfrica drive that was launched at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundé.
The event took place during the half-time of the African Nations Championship (CHAN) clash between Burkina Faso and Cameroon.
Among the 14 legends taking part in the campaign are former Cameroon international stars Roger Milla, Rigobert Song and Geremi Njitap as well as South Africa’s Mark Fish and Khalilou Fadiga of Senegal.
Other former Cameroon internationals Jules Onana, Emmanuel Mabouang, Bill Tchato, Gaëlle Enganamouit, Jacques Songo’o, Jean-Claude Pagal, Bertin Ebwelle and Vincent Ogandzi.
CAF deputy general secretary Anthony Baffoe, who is also a former Ghana international defender, will also be part of the campaign.
Through the #StaySafeAfrica campaign, the former African football stars will use their influence to encourage the public to wash their hands, wear facemasks and practice social distancing amid the pandemic.
Championed by CAF’s football legends, the Stay Safe Africa campaign to fight Covid-19 also engages communities and African decision makers to take action to prevent the spread of the virus.
The campaign is part of the partnership with the organization, Speak Up Africa that works for sustainable development and access to health in Africa.
Extending its support, CAF will continue to promote Covid-19 prevention messages and highlight the impact of the virus on wider public health issues during the 2020 Total African Nations Championship.