Unveiling Abuja’s Medical Research Institute

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Dakum

With the establishment of a first-of-its-kind medical research centre in Abuja by the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria, the country’s health sector is one step closer to addressing some of its research challenges. Martins Ifijeh writes

Amid the growing fears in our interconnected world where new diseases are emerging at an unprecedented rate, the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN), in its bid to promote public/private partnership for quality health services, capacity building and research in Nigeria and West Africa at large is set to unveil a new N5 billion medical research centre in Abuja, Nigeria.

The facility, named International Research Center of Excellence (IRCE), is located along Airport Road in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, will be a combination of laboratories, offices, training facilities, and lecture halls on 2.5 hectares of land.

The Chief Executive Officer, IHVN, Dr. Patrick Dakum explained that one of the key objectives of IRCE was to provide training and engage new researchers in its mentorship programme, as part of plans to conduct biomedical research focusing on HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases. He also stated that IHVN builds the capacity of healthcare providers and ancillary workers across all implementation and research activities.

The public health expert disclosed that the IRCE which would be commissioned on June 26, 2020, is one of the three centres of IHVN that has conducted trainings and mentoring on global health education, laboratory and research methodology, statistical methods in epidemiology, scientific and medical ethics, and the principles and practice of clinical trials in collaboration with the faculty members of the University of Maryland, Baltimore and other international faculty.

He continued: “The IRCE would provide a common world-class platform for the implementation of research and clinical trials at the international standards as part of global networks. It will also foster collaborations and synergism between Nigeria’s finest researchers and their counterparts at international research institute and universities and also provide safety net that protects IHVN and its collaborators from liability by proactively ensuring that research conducted at IHVN is under the highest scientific and ethical standards.”

Dakum further stated that the IRCE would provide opportunities for young Nigerian researches to develop and execute research projects being mentored by more experienced investigators at IHVN, Nigerian Universities, the Diaspora, and international research institutions and universities.

“In addition to a clinical trial unit, IRCE will host seven laboratories in one building for the diagnosis of infectious diseases like HIV, drug-resistant tuberculosis, Ebola, Lassa fever. These laboratories are bio-repository, molecular diagnostics, chemistry, hematology and microbiology, clinical pathology, immunology and vaccinology, genomics resource centre and proteomics and metabolic laboratories,” he said.

He opined that the institute was also involved in more of implementation science research. “By that, we are looking at best ways to carry out proven science, how we can scale up the best practice in delivering services that we already know. Using HIV as an example, how do you deliver care to the patients that are in remote areas? So we came up with research related to looking at how to decentralise services and whether services would be easily delivered at a lower level other than teaching hospitals only.”

The expert continued: “we look at how we as an institute can properly establish to continue to partner with the government in delivery of healthcare in Nigeria. Implementation with the government and other partners is something we want to be indigenous with. Routine implementation should not be carried out by implementing partners but by the government. So our role is to strengthen them to be able to do that.

“We will continue to be technical support and also participants in the research field. The goal of the IRCE is to be a partner with the Nigerian government and to research institutes around the country, especially in universities to support them in areas where they lack capacity in diagnostic and also in tools. We also bring together world-class scientists that will work alongside other scientists here in Nigeria in partnership to advance the frontier of science as far as health care is concerned in Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, while speaking on how to proffer lasting solutions to epidemic of viral diseases in the country, Dakum, said viruses are the next epidemic and pandemic that is expected because a lot of them do not have a cure yet. He said that the country has been hit with avian influenza, Ebola and in between, Lassa fever in addition to other viral diseases that are coming, but the main concern is the Lassa fever that recorded quite a number of mortality.

Dakum said it is important to come out with a strategic response plan, though the national level has a clear plan that needs to be domesticated by the states. The CEO reiterated the need to sustain the efforts put in place especially at the state level, which should also be supported with a clear budget, “when the coronavirus busted out in China, they allocated billions of dollars to fight it, this is the type of thing we need to hear from the government. For us as an institute with the limited availability of fund, what we do is to respond in the context of prevention, capacity building of the healthcare workers,” he said.

The public health expert said it is important to note that these diseases are preventable and also highlighted the need to go back to old-time public practice being prevention. He continued: “Prevention is so simple that people do not believe it. They prefer to hear some complicated ways of avoiding these diseases that are leading to mortality. But, it is simple personal hygiene that you should promote starting from the family. Keep the house clean. Ensure the environment is neat and you would not see rodents coming, and where they are already put measures to control it.

“Community hygiene, house hygiene and personal hygiene for individuals, cleanliness, washing of hands are really important in containing these viral diseases. If you already have the virus, make sure people do not get it. After every contact with human and object, clean your hands and keep these simple measures and save a life.”Also as part of efforts to contain viral diseases, Dakum disclosed as an institute, they promote health education among the communities, within the healthcare space they work with and provide them with personal protective equipment.

He further stated: “We train lab scientists in terms of diagnostics of these diseases. Across the sites we work in, we provide them with adequate training. We are also working in conjunction with the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as a technical partner. Our contributions towards the mitigation of Corona and Lassa are also capacity building and technical support and also by extension, training of lab scientists all over the country.”

Furthermore, the medical expert said the institute, a nongovernmental organization, was established in 2004 to address the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) crisis in Nigeria through developing infrastructure for treatment, care, prevention and support for people living with HIV/AIDS.

According to him, IHVN has expanded its services to other infectious diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and noninfectious diseases including cancers and also structured to develop and, maintain linkages within and outside the country in collaborative ways that support the government of Nigeria’s health sector strategic plans.Dakum noted that the institute’s key technical and funding partners include the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria while the Achieving Control of HIV/AIDS Epidemic through Evidence (ACHIEVE) project is funded by the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

“ACHIEVE focuses on Anti-retroviral Treatment (ART) for adult and children, including pregnant women, laboratory diagnosis and tracking of patients’ status, care and support for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS as well as monitoring and evaluation of patients programme progress. Other focus areas include Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT), HIV Testing Services (HTS), support to Orphans and Vulnerable Children, and Gender-Based Violence. As of September 2019, 432,905 patients received care and support for HIV/AIDS, AND 314,975 received ARV drugs and treatment under the project,” Dakum noted.