By Sylvester Odion Akhaine
I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do—Leonardo da Vinci.
In a prognostic reflection, Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh cast four scenarios in the battle against COVID-19 in the absence of a vaccine. One is a global consensus and collaboration that would be “dependent on a rapid and cheap point-of-care diagnostic”; simultaneous border closure by all countries with time frame; and “an aggressive campaign to identify carriers of the virus and prevent transmission.” Two, without a vaccine yet, effort would be to delay the spread of the virus over a period of a year plus with comprehensive preparation to treat those infected. Three, the adoption of the South Korean model which include “increase testing to identify all carriers of the virus, trace the people they have contacted, and quarantine them for up to three weeks” as well as “large-scale planning, the swift development of a contact-tracing app, and thousands of volunteers to help with swabbing, processing results and monitoring quarantine.” Four, treatment of the symptoms of COVID-19 by administering antiviral therapies that stabilise patients to reduce the need for intensive care, or prevent fatalities at critical point. Additional thereto, is the use of “prophylactic therapy to prevent the onset of COVID-19, in combination with rapid diagnostic testing to identify those who have been infected”.
Why the World Heath Organisation has developed a comprehensive and imaginative research blueprint to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, nations have largely followed one or more of Sridhar’s typology. The South Korean model may well be rechristened the Asian model that was seeded in China’s Wuhan and has fared well in Singapore. It entails widespread testing including pre-emptory test even before any manifest symptom, aggressive contact-tracing and compulsory quarantine. In “Why America is Losing to COVID-19” William A. Haseltine gave a vivid picture of some of the measures that the Chinese authorities took. In her account, “In China, quarantines are monitored through an app. Everyone receives a unique QR code showing their status – green if you’re clear of infection, yellow if you’ve been instructed to stay indoors, red if you are under quarantine. If you’re roaming the streets and your QR code flashes red, you will immediately be moved back to quarantine, or else you may face fines or jail time. Singapore has taken this technology even further, launching a new Trace Together app that people can download to help protect themselves and those around them. If a user passes within two meters of someone who is found to be infected, the app immediately notifies the user of the risk”.
Both Europe and America have been unable to achieve this due to paucity of equipment needed to do so and perhaps non-creative deployment of what is available. Nigeria’s approach is more of a copy-cat. It has carried out deficient and selective lockdowns and border closure, contract-tracing is non-aggressive, and with inadequate testing kits (ongoing). The country touts the low incidence infection as a product of the “combined efforts with State Ministries of Health, Port Health Services, colleagues from our Nigeria Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program (NFELTP)” as well as the deployment of its digital surveillance tool, SORMAS, across states. The country may have achieved psychological and self-consolatory effect in the fact of doing something. The citizens are barely even armed with N95 type face mask that is fail-safe. With a deficient Infection Protection and Control (IPC), lurking in the corner is a possible spike of the infected—an epidemiological disaster.
Nevertheless, there are some developing facts about COVID-19, especially its pathologies, namely, fever, cough, shortness of breath, myalgia, confusion and headache.The levels of affliction range from the mild to severe. About half of the latter cases often do not make it due to progressive respiratory and multi-organ failure after prolonged course, usually about seven to ten days. Its mode of transmission covers a number of ways: Droplets from persons with respiratory symptoms such as coughing and sneezing; through fomites such as clothes, utensils and furniture, direct contact with infected people; indirect contact with surfaces and objects used by infected persons. WHO advisory speaks to weak evidence of its aerolised nature and advise caution by maintaining physical distancing while Chinese researchers have claimed transmission through farts. So, we are dealing with a complex microparasite whose nature the community of scientists is yet to fully comprehend. The virus has continued its killing spree and this needs to be halted; enough of misery for mankind. Truly, there is a race to find the cure, both the elixir (a cure-it-all vaccine) and adjunctive (immune booster, ACE inhibitors, vitamins etc.) and supportive therapies. Jon Cohen, a Senior Correspondent with Science Magazine has observed that the haste of the moment would have been avoided of the science community had leveraged on the knowledge of the sequence of the virus, an enough basis for a vaccine.
The key question is: where are we in the global scramble to find both curative and therapeutic solutions? China the country of origin of the virus and its point of dispersal after taking its own beating has approved three coronavirus vaccines for clinical trials. First is the adenovirus vector vaccine, developed by research team at the Chinese Institute of Military Medicine. Second is an inactivated vaccine candidate developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and third, another inactivated vaccine candidate developed by the Beijing-based Sinovac Research and Development Co., Ltd., have been approved for clinical trials.
A vaccine hatched by government researchers and Moderna Inc., a biotechnology company in Cambridge, Massachusetts has begun safety testing in humans in the United States. If this and all later clinical studies succeed, it could be ready for use as soon as early next year, researchers say. Notably, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a research fellow at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and her team has begun first-stage clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine in a race to abbreviate the production process. Even at that the vaccine could possibly be on the doctors’ table sometime in 2021.
In Russia, clinical trials of a vaccine for the treatment of COVID-19 are to be tested on 60 volunteers as of the end of June, the expected time that pre-clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine developed at the Vector State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology would be completed.
Back home, the Kaduna-based scientist and former lecturer with the Department of Microbiology, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH), Professor Ayodele Adeleye, claims discovery of a cure for coronavirus whose details are little known. Similarly, Prophet Francis Onwudinwe Otukwu, General Supervisor of Thank God Awaited Liberation Ministry, Lagos, claims that he has found a cure for coronavirus. His is a simple recipe that comprises five pieces of Alligator pepper (Aframomum melegueta) and dried Uziza seed grinded to powder quality and administered in bits, two to four times daily. Uziza known as piper guineense is popular among the Igbo of eastern Nigeria and has many health values. The seed contains ant-inflammatory agents. Alligator, its complement, contains phytonutrients that scavenge for free radicals and offer fortification against viruses and microbes among others.
Equally, Oyo State governor, Mr. Seyi Makinde who survived coronavirus said black seed oil, onions and honey could be useful in managing the infection. His view received a boost from the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III who equally said blackseed oil and honey could be invaluable in the treatment of COVID-19. In our country there is evidently a plethora of claims: from Professors Maurice Iwu, Akpa to Ayodele among others. I believe these claims fall into the adjunctive therapeutic brackets. Let me add a supportive therapy from my traditional milieu. It is a mixture of sand paper leaves and alligator pepper. The former known as Ficus exasperata is known to have anti-hypertensive and antioxidant properties. It is used for palpitating heart and strained diaphragm. When applied, it leaves a lingering and penetrating twinge on the body. This can be compressed and sprayed like deep heat on COVID-19 patients with breathing difficulty. The private sector can collaborate with researchers to produce an African remedy. Two new medications have just been introduced, namely, the antiviral remdesivir by Gilead Sciences and Pluristem’s Allogeneic Placental expanded (PLX) cells by Pluristem therapeutics Inc, Haifa, Israel. There is a huge market for realisation for would-be investors. It is not too late.
Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science, Lagos State University.