Although the Institute of Human Virology of Nigeria has had its footing in HIV/AIDS prevention and management in Nigeria, its expansion into the provision of research platforms against diseases hopes to change the narrative against disease outbreaks in the country. Martins Ifijeh writes
Nine months after the discovery of COVID-19 in China that has now spread to all continents of the world – killing almost a million people and infecting 24 million persons across the globe – the world seems to be racing against time for vaccines and curative drugs to stop its growing spread and the accompanying devastation it is leaving behind.
To be fair, many nations, including the United States, Russia, China and the United Kingdom have put their research prowess to work in the development of solutions against the disease, with many of them already in the final stages of clinical trials and hoping that by the beginning of 2021 the world will heave a sigh of relieve.
While this appears to be a blister of hope for the world, there is a possibility countries manufacturing these vaccines and curative drugs will first turn the solutions to their own citizens before ‘saving the world’; putting nations that were unable to put their own initiatives to work at disadvantaged points.
One of such nations is Nigeria, who despite having several research institutes and highly profiled global researchers, is unable to initiate, not to mention complete a vaccine research against COVID-19 that has killed over a thousand persons and infected more than 53,000 persons in the country.
But to close this gap and prevent being handicapped in future in producing vaccines against disease outbreaks, epidemic preparedness, among others, the International Research Center of Excellence (IRCE), established by the Institute for Human Virology of Nigeria (IHVN), hopes to change the narrative by putting under one roof medical research facilities and world
class researchers under one roof to help the country address disease co
For clarity, IRCE will 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.
Speaking with THISDAY recently, the Chief Executive Officer, IHVN, Dr. Patrick Dakum explained that IRCE will provide training and engage new researchers in its mentorship programme, as part of plans to conduct biomedical research focusing on HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, non-communicable diseases, and other emerging diseases, noting that IHVN builds the capacity of healthcare providers and ancillary workers across all implementation and research activities.
The multi-billion naira medical research which is almost ready to launch out is located in Abuja, and it 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.
Dakum said: “IRCE will 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, COVID-19, among others. 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.”
On his part, the Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director of IHVN, Charles Olalekan the establishment of the research edifice will help put smart Nigerian scientists together to use its available platform and technology to provide research breakthroughs for the country, and West Africa by extension.
He added, “A lot of the laboratories in Nigeria require uninterrupted 24 hour power supply. So our idea is to replicate all our laboratories in one place. We have laboratories in Jos, Zaria, Asokoro, Gwagwalada, and so on. While these labs will be maintained, we needed to replicate all in one building, which is the edifice we are talking about. This will bring brilliant minds in Africa to come here for research.
“For instance, on COVID-19, nobody is travelling out of Nigeria, so how do we develop vaccines? How do we know if chloroquine is effective or not? Nobody is testing it. If we set the edifice up, put heads together with smart Nigerian scientists, we will come up with solutions because they will not have to worry about power or other things. The platform will bring our bright scientists together,” he added.
The Executive Director, IHVN, Prof. Alash’le Abimiku said IRCE, among other things have deliberately established a Clinical Trial Unit for an unbiased scientific rigor whose data cannot be disputed anywhere in the
She said: “We have made it very clear to the Nigerian government, Nigeria Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD)and other research
institutes that we have the basis for unbiased scientific rigor, that we can
say: here is the unbiased scientific result or date that the world will
“In the last two or three years, we have had some progress where we have met with those institutions and we have shared with them the infrastructure that we have that would support them to be able to do
those clinical trials because IHVN has the capacity to run clinical trials at
international standard and is an independent body, with the expertise, that can be compared to any clinical trial run anywhere in the world. So, what needs to happen is that our efforts will ensure government can confidently say it is now part of global efforts towards testing or producing certain solutions against diseases.’’
The professor of Medicine, University of Maryland, US called on the government to engage with institutions like IHVN and make them its scientific partner for clinical trials with scientific rigor that would be accepted anywhere in the world, even in Geneva or US.