Published On: Mon, Aug 14th, 2017

Will insufficient funds, negligence mar cure recipe for epilepsy?

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Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole Folorunsho

Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole Folorunsho

By Christiana Ekpa

The Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO) Abuja, would have completed the cure for epilepsy drug among other research work started by it but for lack of funds and negligence have bedeviled the Agency since inception.
Director General of the Agency Professor Thomas Asoqua explained that his family had always treated Epilepsy with a rear plant that grows in his village in Akwa ibom which with his help he led a research team that obtained and subjected the said plant to test in the United States of America were it was certified to be true after series of test.
He said for lack of funds that the remaining part of the work would have been completed and the drug put to use in Nigeria and the world at large saving billions of money and lives being wasted
‘’We have to develop the plant extract, they need money to develop it and we are even trying to see if we can make the plant to grow here by using our bio technology. The next is try to see how we can develop this plant extract like what was done in the case of sickling cell. it cause a lot and is going to be more expensive to produce capsule or tablet. we also need to do the bio technology of the plant and it will cause money so we need the money to do it either’’ he stressed
The National Assembly in the 2017 Budget has again under funded the Agency thereby stopping work on the drug. They require over N4 billion but got a paltry N181million from the budget
The Agency, a multi-disciplinary research and development outfit, has remained moribund almost since it was set up,
Peoples Daily uncovered that, the complex, equipped with laboratories bio-technology, chemistry, physics and a nuclear technology centre with gamma irradiation plant, was supposed to be a research hub for the development of drugs for sickle-cell anaemia, malaria, and cancer, among other functions.
Remarkably, three renowned scientists have served as directors-general of the organiaation without the centre achieving its goals: Prof. Emmanuel Emovon, Dr. Ayodele Coker and Mr. Ugha Soro. A director from the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology had served for three months in an acting capacity. The current director-general, Prof. Sunday Thomas Asoquo, second tenure will soon come to an end also.
Investigation reveals that the complex has only successfully developed an urea-biomass fertilizer and an anti-sickle cell drug discovered by Prof. Charles Wambebe of the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development in 2006.
Both projects were said to have been abandoned in controversial circumstances.
Further investigations showed that development of the anti-sickle cell drug hit the rocks when the then management of SHESTCO allegedly could not account for the N100 million it got from the Federal Government through NEXIM Bank at the time.
It was also alleged that XECHEM, an American drug manufacturing company, which bought the patent for the commercial production of the anti-sickle cell drug and was ready to go into partnership with SHESTCO to mass produce the medicine, got cold feet because the authorities of SHESTCO were no longer transparent in the disbursement of the money. The American company has since pulled out of the project, which has stalled the progress of the life-changing drug.
There were also allegations that over N10 million given to the agency by the Bayelsa State government during the administration of the late DSP Alamieyeseigha grew wings and disappeared with no traces. Some staff claimed that the Bayelsa State government had given the centre the money for the pilot project of the banana/plantain multiplication project.
The fate of the banana/plantain project also affected the research for other agricultural multiplication proposals like tissue plant, mahogany, obeche and acacia. This development was said to have adversely affected government’s efforts to curb deforestation, especially in the northern part of the country.
A visit to the complex showed a huge un-fenced land overgrown with weeds that spread all over the vast expanse of land that was supposed to be used as a demonstration farm. It was gathered that the land is currently being used as grazing pasture by Fulani herdsmen and other petty farmers.
Staff morale was low as most of them wore long faces speaking of despair and hopelessness when this reporter visited the complex.
Apart from their monthly salaries, no form of allowance gets to the workers to carry out routine official assignments. It was gathered that the workers only come to sign the attendance register and stay till closing hours before leaving, as lack of funds has almost brought activities in the science complex to a halt. The scientists within the complex are not faring any better.
Most of the structures in the complex are also in a dilapidated condition while some of the machines are rusty and obsolete.
The 419 square kilometres of land also houses 34 unit of flats meant for the scientists, while the place now used as offices was supposed to be laboratory and engineering rooms. Sources said the 23-year-old agency has not been able to build a befitting administrative office in spite of money allocated for the purpose in 2004.
Spread around the make-shift administrative block is 32 and 18-seater buses that have been abandoned, while the entire road network is in a state of disrepair.
The gamma irradiation facility (GIF) procured at over N200 million and inaugurated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on June 6, 2006, has been left unused. The equipment, it was learnt, is meant for applications in food preservation to curb post-harvest losses, thereby ensuring food security all year round in Nigeria, but no Nigerian farmer has had access to the facility.
The fuel source called cobalt-60 has almost fully decayed at the time of this report.To compound matters, the GIF, a component of the Nuclear Technology Centre at SHESTCO, is currently a subject of contention for control with the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), its regulatory agency, and the situation has the capability of leading to a nuclear accident, which could exterminate mankind.
The Science Museum building on the premises is now occupied by dangerous reptiles, with grass taking over the whole exterior. The museum was said to have cost a N82 million when it was built in 2000 during Obasanjo’s administration, just as some state-of-the-art research equipment at the time of purchase have become obsolete and useless.
When contacted, the Director-General of SHESTCO, Prof. Asuquo Thomas, confirmed that “there are challenges.”
“Just like any other government parastatal, we lack funds. It is not peculiar to us,” he said, apparently trying to justify the situation in the science complex.
While also confirming that the production of the anti-sickle cell drug ran into troubled waters, Thomas also noted he wasn’t the head of the organisation when the drug production crisis hit SHESTCO.
He, however, disclosed that XECHEM went bankrupt and had its license withdrawn by NIPRD, which now produces the drug.
He dismissed insinuations that the agency was moribund, “but we are hampered by lack of funding.”
Asked what the organisation has done in 23 years besides the inconclusive fertilizer and anti sickle cell drug he said a company is developing another anti-sickle cell drug, that will be simpler and cheaper to produce than what NIPRD did 10 years ago
.Thomas further disclosed that the agency found another way of producing anti-cancer drugs, particularly breast cancer, “which will also be cheaper than what we have now.” He said the clinical test was done in Princeton University, New Jersey, USA.
Other work he claimed are going on now in the agency includes work on anti-epilepsy medicine which works best in children.
The DG, however, admitted there is problem with the Gama Irradiation faculty. He, however, said this occurred because the facility was transferred to another atomic agency, the National Atomic Energy Commission.

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