With three out of 10 children in Nigeria said to be fathered by their non-biological fathers, the dearth of laboratory facilities have made it an uphill task for paternity tests to be carried out in the country. Mary Nnah writes on an initiative to change the narrative
It is no longer news that paternity fraud in Nigeria is the second highest in the world with three out of 10 children said to have non-biological fathers. But what seems most worrisome is that there is typically little possibility to verify biological fatherhood with the dearth of laboratory facilities in the country for testing; and where it exists, only the few rich Nigerians can afford it.
This has however caused many Nigerians to take the medical process for granted, except only when a medical emergency is required.
But in changing the narrative, the Chief Executive Officer, DiagnoseMe Africa, Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, said with good laboratory facilities in place and the right information, paternity fraud will be a thing of the past in the country.
Stating this at a stakeholders meeting for Stacks Diagnostics in Lagos recently, he frowned at the lackadaisical attitude Nigerians have toward paternity verification, arguing that the lack of funds for the purported high cost of laboratory tests was not responsible for this, but rather the lack of information.
“Paternity fraud is like 30 per cent high in Nigeria, in that three out of every 10 children have the wrong father or are fathered by the wrong fathers. Now a lot of Nigerians do not even know where to get paternity test done, so it is not about price, but because they don’t know where to go to.
“I think the first thing is access – it is to know where to go to and then the next is price. So I wouldn’t say paternity fraud is high because we cannot afford the cost of paternity test. Most of us spend the value for paternity test in a restaurant each night and paternity tests lead to something that saves life,” he said.
He said paternity tests should be taken seriously in the country, adding that in as much as he does not have any plan of breaking homes, it was good to know paternity status just in case a medical emergency occur.
“So you don’t want to start discovering something when there is an emergency, otherwise it will be too late to save a life. So be prepared, know your family and don’t take chances because Nigerians many times like to take chances. But I would want to believe that many people don’t know because they haven’t checked and they don’t even know where to go and check. So, we are telling them to come to our facility and buy a test, and it is easy to find out. We are discreet about everything we do. We won’t tell anybody.”
Ene-Obong, who is not a medical doctor per se but holds a PhD, said: “ I have spent many years in medical field researching for cures for diseases. I contributed significantly to the field of Gastro Anthropology, where I am published in the number one international journal in that field. I was a researcher in some of the leading institutions the UK. After that I got a business degree and worked as a business consultant in the United States for renowned health companies, as a result I come in contact with a lot of known brands in the health space.”
He said for many years, he has embarked on a study of complex diseases of humans in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world and that recently, he concluded that he has come full circle to a point where he can provide services to solving complex diseases presently experienced in Nigeria; a reason he recently launched an online platform DiagnoseMe.Africa.
Powered by Stacks Diagnostics, DiagnoseMe.Africa is Nigeria’s first premium molecular diagnostics and personalised medicine company on its way to becoming the leading service provider in Africa.
He said the company’s goal was to provide access to affordable, accessible and quality diagnostics for Nigerians thereby suppressing the increasing need for oversees diagnostics.
“All the diagnostic tools needed in the medical space are being brought to Nigeria and we are making it easy to access for Nigerians. There is something for everyone and we have a portal where doctors can access more than 300 tests that span from cancer to fertility issues and to even pre-natal tests infectious diseases and many other leading tests in the world”, he noted.
DiagnoseMe.Africa according to the CEO provides genetics testing and other hard-to-access diagnostic tests services in Africa through its online platform.
“When we say hard-to-access tests, we mean tests that you don’t typically find in your laboratories around you but which are life-serving tests. The reason of course is that our labs still have infrastructural challenges and so many of the tests that are required for today’s crops of diseases are not available in Nigeria.
“So we have created this online platform to make it possible for people to have these tests from their homes and in the case of doctors, from their hospitals”, he added.
Some of the tests one might find on DiagnoseMe.Africa for consumers, he revealed further are, “tests for pregnant women to test for Sickle Cell and Down Syndrome in their foetus from as early as 10 weeks without having to go through vigorous synthesis procedures, but just from a normal simple blood drop.
“We also have tests that people could use to see their risk of developing breast, cervical, ovarian and prostate cancers. And then doctors can log into a secured portal and order over 300 tests which span from infectious diseases, STDs, to a whole range of testes.”
Expatiating on DiagnoseMe.Africa procedures and the convenience they offer, he said: “One of the things we are proud to do is to make it convenient for everyone. We believe you can get tested in a convenient manner. So one of the ways we do this is that for some of our tests, we just send you a kit.
“Some of our tests like, our genetic tests, all you need do is to spit into a tube which was sent to you and so you don’t need to go to a hospital or a lab to do this. And for some tests we need blood samples and for those tests, there are two ways we try to add convenient to that process.
“We would send you one of our health work team members who are certified nurses and scientist who come to your house and take your blood sample.
“Or if you prefer, you can go to one of our partners’ locations which are highly curated good quality hospitals and laboratories and all you need to do is to show them that you are from DiagnoseMe and they would take your blood and you don’t have to wait because we take it from there.
“Most men are afraid of going to test for prostate cancer because it is not a palatable experience for them but now, it is as simple as analysing saliva, and can tell you what your risk factor is for certain diseases.”
He said although it all sounded so interesting, one would wonder if all these procedures were what Nigerians can afford. “I keep telling people that affordability is not the same thing as cheap. And when you consider the fact that you don’t have to travel abroad to do these tests or even send your samples abroad, you will see that it is more cost effective”, he stressed.
Speaking on the motive behind the establishment, Ene-Obong recalled how the journey started. “It is sort of a long story because my first project while in Nigeria just before I left the country more than a decade ago was on Hepatitis. So I studied Hepatitis amongst healthcare workers in the country. And I noticed it was significant even amongst the healthcare workers.
“Now the question you ask yourself is, if a surgeon has Hepatitis and he is treating you, or performing surgery on you, what is the chance that you might contact the same disease? And so I realised that for diseases like Hepatitis, in Nigeria, they are actually passed across in hospitals because we still do not use universal percussion.
“So our hospitals are the hubs for transmission of Hepatitis B and C, which as we all know is the leading cause of liver cancer now, which in Nigeria is death sentence. And then, also having worked in a complex disease space, researching cancer, mental health disorder and other forms of diseases, I came back to Nigeria and I noticed that the major problem was not so much in the treatment but was in actually in the identification of the disease.
“How can you treat a patient adequately when you don’t even know what disease you are treating or you don’t know sub types of disease you are treating? How many doctors in Nigeria look for sub types of disease? They can’t because prior to now, there has been no place for them to look for sub types and so our healthcare system has been heavily dependent on chance.
“I don’t want to be treated based on chance. I want the doctor who is treating me to know with a high degree of certainty, that the disease I am being treated for, is the one I am actually suffering from. I want the doctor to know with high degree of certainty, that if they give me this particular drug, it may not work for the particular sub type of disease I have. And so that is why we started DiagnoseMe.Africa to provide this certainty. And I believe that once there is certainty in healthcare in Nigeria, we would have better outcome.”
Although officially launched to the public a couple of days back, DiagnoseMe.Africa, he revealed, has been in existence behind the scene since July this year. Ene-Obong is certainly optimistic about its acceptability and impact in the health space. “We are hoping Nigerians, patients and doctors alike, will welcome and appreciate innovation and a chance for this better healthcare,” he said.