We are ready to partner China on medical research – NMA President

Prof. Innocent Ujah,the National President of Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) in this interview conducted in his Abuja office spoke on how Nigeria and People’s Republic of China can collaborate to promote health conditions of the two nations. Kunle Ilyasu was there for Peoples Mail. Excerpts

Prof. Ujah during the interview

It is understood that almost 10 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, and about 500,000 have died, with hundreds of thousands of new cases still occurring every day. But we also know that new cases very little in China now except more than 200 new cases recently in Beijing. So can we say that China has already done well in containing this pandemic? Actually the most notable is, in China, Africans confirmed with COVID-19 are numbered, and no death was found in Africans.  Could you please share with us your views on China’s fight against pandemic?


 Let me just say that as far as I am concerned, Covid-19 started from Wuhan in China and any other evidence to the contrary, we need to wait for that.  Whether China has done well on containment or not depends on how you view it. We know that China built within 10 days huge treatment centre to tackle the pandemic. It served as isolation centre to check the spread of the disease. That move was excellent and it really shows that China did a lot to tackle the coronavirus. It is a great effort on the part of China.

 Unfortunately, we didn’t get sufficient alarm in Nigeria to prepare the same way China did. The truth of the matter is that while China appeared to be doing well, the whole world is not doing well. It is all about emergency preparedness and response. We need to train people, get certain things ready. We didn’t know the magnitude of the problem and that affected us. There is recent trend now which is on community spread. Covid-19 is spreading to almost all the region.

On 17th of this month, a video conference was held at the special Summit on China-Africa Solidarity against COVID-19. And China pledged to provide more medical supplies to Africa, build the headquarter of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, build hospitals, strengthen cooperation among medical organizations and provide US $2 billion in aid to the WHO. So could you talk about how to strengthen cooperation between China and Nigeria on epidemic prevention and control?

It is about Peer-Review-Mechanism which is about learning from what have happened and happening. I mean learning of things that have happened in Nigeria, China and exchanging scientific knowledge to provide us with veritable information that will help us to contain the disease in Nigeria and other African countries. It is true that China has invested greatly in Nigeria in terms of support, which I know. The tragedy we had is not about the support, we would have preferred that Covid-19 is prevented from coming to Africa and Nigeria. This is because; we don’t have what is needed to contain it immediately. Our health system is not as strong as strong that of the developed countries to withstand the number of cases we are recording. So that was a minus.

We know that the United States has decided to stop supporting WHO, saying that WHO is not fair enough. How do you see this? From the perspective of Nigeria Medical Association, a very important organization in the Nigerian medical community, could you please talk about how to strengthen the communications and cooperation between two countries’ medical communities?

The issue of WHO is beyond Nigeria Medical Association. It is an issue that concerns an international body and a country. So, I can’t comment on that. I know that Nigeria Medical Association and its Chinese counterpart can work together and collaborate, strengthen partnership, exchange knowledge and experience. We also need to build capacity through training and retraining of medical personnel. Of course, we will also give you what our capacity is, what we have. We will now exchange ideas for the good of both countries. We will look at the diseases and know how best to contain them through collaboration and knowledge sharing. The areas of weaknesses of one can be strengthened by the other. In that case, we can understand ourselves better for our own progress. We can as well organize international conferences and share ideas and skills, do journal reviews of conditions.

Due to the recent shortage of COVID-19 cases in China, China is stepping up phase III clinical trials with Russia, Canada and some countries from the Middle East, believing that a safe and reliable vaccine will be available to all countries by the end of this year. Chinese President Xi Jinping also stressed at the summit that Africa would be the first to benefit from vaccines once they are developed. So what do you think of China’s move? In addition, what cooperation do you think is possible between China and Nigeria in vaccine development and testing?

The exclusion of Africa from the research and clinical trial is a minus. Nigeria has more than 200 million people with sound scientists and medical doctors of high repute. I don’t think Nigeria should be excluded from the clinical trial, and then Nigeria will not be very willing to benefit from the vaccine in the first instance. It would have been nice that we participate, because we have scientists. Science is not hidden. We should be involved. Once we are involved, we will use our own ecosystem, peculiarity and ecology of Nigeria and bring them to bear and it will enrich the outcome of the clinical trial. The exclusion of Nigeria in my opinion is a big error on the part of China. We would have been involved in the planning, implementation and even at the table trials.

As we know, Africa is a continent with an ancient civilization and a long history of medicine. There are many very practical, safe and cheap traditional medical formulas that can treat many diseases and play a key role for the whole continent. And we’re finding that there are good drugs that can be found all over Africa, for example in Madagascar that might also be a new drug for COVID-19. Similarly, Chinese medicine is rich and profound. With the development of Chinese history, traditional medicine has been handed down for thousands of years, especially in the fight against COVID-19.

 So how do you think China and Africa can cooperate in traditional medicine? In addition to cooperation in medical technology, drugs and equipment, what other areas should China and Nigeria deepen cooperation in?

Economic and social cooperation are very important between the two countries. These will however, bring any other thing into it. Nigeria and China government need to strengthen their economic and social cooperation for the good of the peoples. On the issue of traditional medicine, we need to validate the chemical content, the efficacy and the safety of the herbs that are in Nigeria. I believe that we have many plants that may be effective in the management of some health cases, but we need to validate them. It is just like the medicine you produce in China; we have the plant here and can do better. We need to also characterize our plants.  There are specialists that will study the plant and then go to pharmacology. Once that is done, it will be very clear as to the usefulness of each plant. At this stage, we can work with Chinese people to extract the active ingredients. This is because we may not have the technology China have. This can be subjected to further study, like animal study then human study. Once you do that, the two countries will benefit and it will benefit Africa.