By Hannatu Musawa
If Americans can make the serum, then why cant Africans? Typically with every Pharmaceutical Company, there has to be a financial incentive to invest in manufacturing new drugs. Owing to the drawn-out process and repeat trials that go into developing and manufacturing drugs, Pharmaceutical companies have to invest an incredibly huge amount of money for each product. With a malaria drug, for instance, the high incidence of the disease and demand for the drugs provides an incentive for Pharmaceutical companies to manufacture and produce it. But with a new illness such as Ebola, which is, at present only in parts of West Africa, the manufacturers are not prepared to invest the huge amount of money needed for the clinical trials that would guarantee and manufacture the serum. With only a handful of ‘low income’ countries stricken by Ebola and by the theory that, once the disease is contained, there would be very low demand for the expensively manufactured drug, the Pharmaceutical Companies just don’t have a financial incentive to produce the serums. And that may just be the mystery behind why the mystery serum has not been made available to Africa yet!
In the short term, all affected countries have got to put necessary and comprehensive measures in place. And the countries most affected, ECOWAS or the African Union might think of putting enough funding together to approach the Pharmaceutical company in charge of manufacturing the ZMapp serum in order to try and get the serum produced and delivered to Africa as soon as possible.In the longer term, all African countries must focus on strengthening the capacities of continental and national health and sanitation systems so that we can respond to such emergencies, whenever they do arise. Every African country has enough indigenous scientists or can employ foreign expertise to build its scientific capability in drug development. In Nigeria, we have the Nigerian Institute for Pharmaceutical Research (NIPRD) and the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR). Government should enhance the support for these institutions in the experiment and manufacture of drugs.
This terrible plague has already ravaged enough countries and claimed enough lives. Decisive action must be taken in order to contain the spread of the virus. Ebola, having an incubation period of up to 21 days, means that the symptoms do not necessarily show before then. Once transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of infected persons, meat or surfaces, a fever quickly degenerates into internal and external bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea, which all contain vast amounts of the pathogen. If the incubation period goes up to 21 days, then the government should consider closing the borders for, at least, the full duration of that period. That way authorities will be able to have a clearer idea of the true number of cases and an assurance that Nigeria has not played a part in the link of passing the disease on.
Undoubtedly, if the government were to consider momentarily closing the borders, there would be harsh economic consequences felt across the board. The economic effect would be similar to what Nigerians have experienced in the past during strikes, natural disasters, curfews imposed by sectarian violence and the state of emergencies. And despite the difficult effect of such a decision, were it to happen, Nigerians would need to keep in mind the alternative that happens to be, the deadly consequence of giving Ebola an opportunity to spread.
Since the Lagos state government has stepped up to the plate and the federal government has increased surveillance at all entry points to the country and set up a committee to deal with any potential escalation of the disease, there really is an urgent need to consider closing the borders, especially if more cases of Ebola are confirmed or suspected. In addition, hospitals, clinics and laboratories should be provided with the necessary protective gear, required apparatus and needed chemicals for diagnostic tests. Quarantine, security, medical, custom and immigration officers (if the borders aren’t closed) should be equipped with thermal body monitoring cameras to monitor the temperature of suspected victims or passengers arriving into Nigeria. And a vigorous awareness campaign has to be launched throughout Nigeria. The real paradox of Ebola is that the same element that makes it so vicious and so much of a threat happens to also be its failing. The disease kills a high percentage of victims within a very short period of time. This makes it too potent to effectively extend itself broadly. However, that being said, unless we are able to completely eradicate it, the danger of it adapting to its host and mutating to become less virulent is a real scary possibility. The very nature of the survival of viruses is constant mutation and adaptation. So, the longer Ebola is allowed to hang around, the more it will become the long-term public risk that the world cannot afford or control. It has got to be stopped.
As Nigeria comes to terms with the arrival of Ebola, every single one of us has to exhibit a stanch sense of urgency by being aware, taking precautions, following the proper instructions and cooperating with the authorities. And as part of a coordinated international response, the government should act carefully and conscientiously. Ebola has arrived in Nigeria? Close the borders…NOW!
Hannatu Musawa via Twitter: @hanneymusawa