Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina distances himself from reports about his country parting ways with the World Health Organization (WHO) and calling on other African countries to follow suit. Via France 24/RFI Channel, he sends a message that what he did was “to bat away criticism of the homegrown remedy and the WHO’s caution against people using…. (it)… but did not say his country would quit the WHO as a result.” Without mincing words, he says: “No country or organization will keep us from going forward.”
President Rajoelina well calibrated message wins the support of former Africa Union (AU) Ambassador to the United States and current President of the African Diaspora Development Institute, Arikana Chihombori Quao. Discussing issues surrounding Malagasy’s COVID-ORGANICS, medical doctor and activist Arikana says: “Africa does not need the approval of Westerners to commence with the usage of our age-long herbs.”
Digging in the immediate past circumstances, what does one come across with? As a matter of policy, WHO is trapped into staying away from the official launch of the COVID-ORGANICS at the Malagasy Institute of Medical Research by the country’s Head of State behind a clear warning for people’s vigilance about claimed cures. This involves making a decisive tricky, far-reaching decision, considering that the international agency is top heavy African – from Ethiopia and Botswana. Here were two extremely hot, sweet choices – to attend or not to — that burn the mouth cavity, according to African indigenous knowledge.
US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) response is: “There is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent and cure the illness caused by COVID-19. In fact, some of them may not be safe to consume.” The Trump Administration, in any case, has plugged its finance support line to the UN body over the COVID-19.
In between, Africa, in its orchestrated state of unpreparedness (lack of it?), stands warned of losing 190,000 people to the pandemic. Other sources put the figure at a threatening level of 300,000 deaths. US media circles send an alert of less than 2,000 ventilators across 41 African countries. The story, however, turns out different.
African scientists make a very timely call for coordinated strategy to address the threat. Out of the ordinary, after the Nigeria Federal Government (FG) said it was taking delivery of COVID-ORGANICS, the expert feeling in the country’s pharmaceutical industry was that of the “leader of Africa (being) allowed to be dragged low.” This was not supposed to be an FG priority. “Our scientists have similar products, especially our pharmacists who are specialists in pharmacology, pharmacognosy and pharmacokinetics,” a heavily loaded elite reaction said.
Temperatures were brought down by the Chairman of the Research and Development Committee of the Oyo State and University of Ibadan collaboration in the development of herbal remedies for COVID-19. Prof. Oluwasegun Ademowo observed that although the COVID-ORGANICS, had recorded its first death, it did not mean that the remedy was not efficacious. A professor in pharmacology, he said this would be wrong because the scientific validation of the recipe was the only lacking aspect in terms of how it works, how to take or not take it and possible side reactions. Otherwise, the difference (between COVID-ORGANICS and Nigerian remedies) was packaging.
A further COVID-ORGANICS dip in the COVID-19 pandemic sump reveals an eye-opener for Africa to encourage indigenous innovations if the continent is to avoid risking a possible engine knock in its healthcare services delivery.
Dr. Moredreck Chibi, WHO Regional Innovation Advisor, was right when he observed: “As COVID-19 spreads rapidly across Africa, raising concerns about the strain on already fragile health systems, it has become clear that solutions in the response require actions beyond the health sector. Innovation can play a critical role from this regard. It should be part of our DNA going forward.”
It is from this perspective that we should look at the regional office’s organization of a virtual “heckathon” for 100 leading innovators from across sub-Saharan Africa to come up with creative solutions to combat COVID-19. A Ghanaian group won $10,000 cash prize to scale up their screening tool idea.
African countries quickly catch the COVID-19 homegrown solutions fever. Eighteen-year-old natural science student in Ethiopia, Ezedine Kamil, develops 30 separate COVID-19 related inventions – 13 of them already patented but lack funding for scaling. The innovations include low-cost ventilators, warning devices prompting people against touching their faces and contactless electrical soap dispensers, which a local university has produced and distributed to public places.
A health startup in Nigeria, Wellivis Health develops a COVID-19 “Triage Tool” – an online platform allowing users to self-assess their chances of having coronavirus facilitating the connection of those at high risk with a medical professional.
Tunisian National Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology (INSAT) develops AI (artificial intelligence) platform for analyzing lung X-ray images uploaded over the Internet and detecting whether an individual has COVID-19 or not. Funded by the German Government International Development Organization (GIZ), the Italian Society of Medical Radiology and tech giant IBM, the intervention is subject to Ministry of Health approval.
In Uganda, Makerere University School of Public Health, in collaboration with a local auto firm, Kiira Motors Corporation, has developed a low-cost ventilator and COVID-19 test kit. In neighboring Kenya, a 3D printing firm, Ultra-Red Technologies and 3D printers have begun designing and printing low-cost personal protective equipment, plastic face shields and prototypes for ventilators using open source prototypes based on the Swedish technology.
In Tanzania, people access locally produced water and soap dispensers (including sensor type). A COVID-19 home developed herbal remedy was reported to have been passed by the national institute of medical research (NIMR) and was being produced for public use.
African scientists are calling on governments and other stakeholders to take necessary steps to adequately support such innovations across the continent to help fight the disease. There is urgent need for national regulatory bodies to develop, deploy and fast track mechanisms to support these kinds of technologies.
In the words of three South African scientists, Salome Maswime, Collet Dandara and Sudesh Sivirasu: “Now (under COVID-19) more than ever, a strong motivation has been made for the need to increase research funding to strengthen responses by African scientists. And research should be fast-tracked. Some changes must be made to facilitate this.”
The Bureau of the African Union Heads of State and Governments has fully endorsed a new partnership between the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for the COVID-19 response to accelerate COVID-19 Testing (PACT). The continent needs an Africa CDC led system.
Scientists abound. For example, in Algeria, a team made up of 100% teaching and research staff, is working on the final establishment of a COVID-19 research lab. And did you know this? Without foreigners there would be no science in France. The French scientific community relies, above all, on the contribution of doctoral students from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. In France, 50% of PhD students are foreigners — the engine of war—in scientific research.
It is here that the relevance and function of institutions like the African Development Bank (AfDB) come to the open. The sum total of the Bank’s “The High 5” holds no water without touching people’s health and private sector development.
On the one hand, Africa needs scientists who are anti-conformist in the fight against dogma. On the other, the continent needs political leaders who are highly original, imaginative and creative individuals, gifted with vision to see over mass or mess. Political leaders who target a free and independent Africa, possessed of its own unique personality, standing in equality before the rest of the world, accepted, honored and respected. They like of Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere.
COVID-19, irrespective of whatever opinion the world holds about it, has a special message for Africa – a message of inward looking to establish its slot on the world healthcare services map. It’s time for homegrown solutions. And, in the process, the continent should keep the observation of the UN Secretary General António Guterres in mind. Namely that, in this war, likened to the land surveyor’s chain, the continent will be “as strong as its weakest (delivery) system”. After COVID-19, will the health services delivery system in Africa remain chained to the colonial mode? That is the question.