Njan: Nigeria Needs Poison Control Centres

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Secretary General, Nigeria Society for Toxicological Sciences (NSTS) Dr. Anoka Njan

 Secretary General, Nigeria Society for Toxicological Sciences (NSTS) Dr. Anoka Njan, said Nigeria need to be proactive in handling poison related matters by establishing centres all over the states…Jonathan Eze spoke with him after the maiden NSTS scientific conference held recently at Abuja.

Assessment of the maiden NSTS Conference

In my opinion, it was a great meeting, for which we are grateful to God. However, as the Chairman of the Local Organising Committee and Secretary General of the Nigeria Society for Toxicological Sciences (NSTS), I would prefer that the conference be assessed by others for a more objective view.

What is the NSTS learnt from the conference

The conference has reinforced our conviction at NSTS that a lot still needs to be done in sensitising Nigerians on the subject of poisoning. The conference has also succeeded in informing people on the existence of a Society, with expertise to proffer lasting solutions to these issues in collaboration with government.

Benefits of the scientific conference to larger society

Benefits of the conference were enormous, to our members it was a time to reunite and learn from each other. It is very important for us to continue to educate and train folks who appreciate the challenges confronting us as a nation today, to evaluate and limit prevalent risks in Nigeria to prevent harm. This is the essence of the science or indeed the “art” of Toxicology. To the academic community, it was an opportunity for us to demonstrate pure and advance science in the field of toxicology. For the local and global community the conference showcased the toxicological challenges being experienced in Nigeria and the proposed ways to handle these challenges with minimal or no consequences to public health and environment.

What these portend for the economy

The economy of any progressive nation is based on sound policies and sound policies are made based on good scientific data from rigorous and thorough research. An important outcome of toxicology research is the assessment and management of a defined risk to health and the environment, a key component of economic viability of any nation. The conference created an understanding of how important toxicological processes are used to establishing chemical and other toxic exposures safety and/or defining exposure guidelines to protect human and environmental health. These guidelines should be applied to making good policies for a robust economy.

How the NSTS intend to impact on the common man

The major objective of the NSTS is to use the influence of science to predict what, and how chemicals may cause harm and then share that information for use in the protection of public health. We have developed an app called “Repotox” that can be used by anybody and from anywhere in the country to report exposure to any sort of toxicant including industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, snake bite, stings, herbal products etc. at no cost. The app is easy to use and can be downloaded from the society’s website. The information will be processed by our members while solutions on how to remedy and prevent future occurrence will be made available to the sender and the public at large for their protection and that of the environment.

Corporate membership and value proposition for businesses

The NSTS is a non-for-profit organisation, open to corporate organizations with interest in joining forces with us in keeping Nigeria safe from exposure to toxicants using data from sound science. Corporate membership allows companies or organizations to gain exposure to industry leaders, access to standards and technological resources, while also providing for them opportunity to showcase innovations in the area of safety during our events.

Insights from the plenary session on “Tobacco Harm Reduction”

The session on “Tobacco Harm Reduction” was well deliberated. We had a presentation from an international speaker on this topic and a lot of scientific data was presented.

Dr. Ashraf Elamin, manager, translational research strategy at Philip Morris International (PMI), made a presentation titled “Non Clinical and Clinical Assessment of Tobacco Heating System (THS), with claims that the totality of scientific assessment, (both clinical and nonclinical), a result of in-depth research done by the company till date, has the potential for harm reduction.

His presentation also claimed that the THS has given rise to what he described as Reduced Risk Products (RRP), on the rationale that they go through ‘heat’ not ‘burn’ to produce the feel of smoking. The scientific claim in Dr Elamin’s presentation is that “the absence of combustion results in a decreased number of toxicants in the aerosol as compared to conventional cigarette.”

These claims got the scientists in the room thinking and so lots of questions were raised by participants and discussions were made based on scientific judgements. Part of what makes the discussion of interest to us as body of researchers is that individuals have been using tobacco for centuries, with tangible scientific evidence that tobacco is harmful to health. So to encounter any scientific data presented to show that this harm or injury caused by tobacco can be reduced ignited thoughts and robust conversation. This is the beauty of science.

Explanation to the man in the street and regulatory authorities, particularly health authorities

First, as a scientist in the health sector, I want to make it clear tobacco is dangerous, based on abounding scientific evidence. It is better not to smoke at all or quit smoking if you are already a smoker. But NSTS as body of knowledge is interested in the science, the data that claim that harm in tobacco can be reduced, especially for current smokers who choose to continue smoking and the environment they affect would have to be interrogated scientifically. NSTS is concerned with evidence based approaches in reduction of injury caused by exposure to toxicants in our environment, with a view to making this information available for the protection of public health.

How the NSTS ensure global collaboration

Every genuine toxicology society all over the globe must be registered with IUTOX, because it is the umbrella society for all toxicology institutions in the world, hence the name “International Union of Toxicology”. Nigeria (NSTS) is one of four members of this international body in Africa including South Africa, Egypt and Cameroon. We have collaborations with IUTOX and her member societies all over the world in the areas of human and scientific information sharing. Since every country/region has its own peculiar toxicological challenges, information is shared to member societies globally for exchange of ideas on ways to proffer solutions to these challenges. These collaborations is part of what makes NSTS strong.

What to expect from the NSTS in the short to midterm

Nigerians should expect answers to all poisoning concerns or questions of public interest from NSTS. For example, the simple issues like consumption of contaminated fish or food stuff or exposure to contaminants, we should be able to take sample, analyze it, and inform the public on proffered solutions. In simple terms, NSTS should be the National sentinel for toxins and poison awareness to the public.

Last words ….

One of the problems we have is that government treats poisoning as a disease. For example, they wait until there are poisoning episodes like the Zamfara and Niger lead poisoning incidence before any form of action to mitigate it. Most times, government adopts a fire brigade approach by rushing to the site for a couple of months to manage the outbreak, without implementing corrective measures to address the root cause in order to forestall a reoccurrence.

What we need as a country are poison control centers that will be in charge of poisoning outbreaks before many lives are lost or even before they occur. The center should normally have a Toxicovigilant department. This department should operate a toxicovegilance system, based on risk assessment. I have presented this in many government organised fora. It was presented and approved at the federal council of health meeting in Sokoto, but till date nothing has been done. But I know this country will be great again.