Former Lagos State governor and now minister of works and housing, Babatunde Fashola, and the 14th Emir of Kano and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Muhammad Sanusi II, have volunteered to mobilise Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike to raise a seed fund of N10 billion for the development of impactful homegrown medical research outputs in the country.
The duo made the commitment on Tuesday in Lagos at a public presentation of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) Foundation.
They said they are worried by the funding challenge facing researchers’ efforts to develop homegrown impactful research works that will primarily affect health challenges that are peculiar to Africans including non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, and neglected tropical diseases.
While Mr Fashola serves as the chairman of the governing board of the foundation, Mr Sanusi is a trustee alongside two renowned medical scholars- Oye Gureje and Emmanuel Idigbe. On the board of trustees is also a veteran broadcaster, Moji Makanjuola.
Addressing a media parley through a virtual presentation on Tuesday, Mr Fashola said as the apex medical research organisation charged with the responsibility to conduct research into diseases and conditions of public health importance in Nigeria and faced by the dwindling public funds, it became unavoidable for the institute to be creative and unique in its approach.
The minister listed the mandate of the foundation to include; mobilising adequate and predictable resources, building robust organisational capacity for sustainable management of resources and delivery of impact, identifying, training and retraining junior and mid-level researchers in Nigeria and create enabling environment for research and development on priority health and health-related research agenda identified by the foundation.
He added that the foundation would “promote innovation and commercialisation of research and development outputs from NIMR Foundation and other partner academic and research institutions.”
He said: “NIMR Foundation has the mandate to build and expand capacity for translational research among early career investigators and promote innovation, development and commercialisation of homegrown medicines, vaccines and technologies to address the health problems of Nigeria in particular, and Africa at large.
“The foundation will do everything that NIMR is currently doing and should be doing given the broad mandate imposed by the Law establishing the institute back in 1977 from a service perspective. The differentiating factor is that the Foundation will utilise resources mobilised from mostly the private sector rather than depend on funding from the government as NIMR does.”
L-R: Executive Director, NIMR Foundation, Olajide Sobande; NIMR DG, Babatunde Salako, and former CBN Governor, Muhammad Sanusi II, at the public presentation of NIMR Foundation in Lagos on Tuesday.
Photo: MOJEED ALABI
He added that “given the source of funding and the need to demonstrate value for money, NIMR Foundation will prioritise development and implementation of mechanisms to elevate research, innovation and products or services development in health care as a viable business which can address human suffering in form of diseases and other health-related problems and become a significant revenue stream contributing to the economic productivity of our nation.”
Rationale for the foundation
The Director-General of NIMR, Babatunde Salako, described as unfortunate the constraints faced by the institute to provide funding for researches into identified public health priorities and groom young researchers “as it is done in other climes like the MRC in the UK or NIH in the US.”
Mr Salako, a professor, said: “Nigeria, although Africa’s largest economy with potentially the highest concentration of medical schools and universities on the continent, faces some of the worst public health challenges including the highest global burden of malaria, a high burden of HIV and tuberculosis, emerging infections such as Lassa Fever, recurrent outbreaks of cholera, meningitis and yellow fever and increasing levels of non-communicable diseases.
“This disconnect has been attributed largely to the insufficient number of world class researchers and scientists to conduct researches that inform policy and development of vaccines, medicines and technologies to address the nation’s healthcare needs.”
He said with the establishment of the foundation, he hopes that the challenges would be largely addressed.
Sanusi, others speak
Mr Sanusi, who was physically present at the parley, commended the leadership of the institute for its innovations and contributions to the fight against the rampaging coronavirus pandemic.
He, however, noted that for Nigerians to really understand the gravity of the challenges facing the people, statistics shouldn’t just be viewed as numbers but that “human beings who are behind the statistics should be considered.”
He said: “I have always said that if we look at the statistics and you don’t think of the human beings, you don’t really put in the amount of effort which you may be expected to put to work. For instance, the simple things like the rate of inflation is just a number but when you look at the common men and women who are struggling to find garri and who are unable to eat because of the inflation, then you become more interested in finding solutions.
“So all these health figures that we have- infant mortality, maternal mortality, life expectancy and so on, we need to think of the human beings behind the figures. We need to think of someone’s mother or child, sister or aunt who has died as a result of these problems, then we should understand that we need to attach a sense of urgency to it.”
He said the latest World Bank Development Report has shown that Nigeria keeps going backward not just in terms of per capita income but access to education and healthcare, “even in relation to other sub-saharan African nations.”
Listing the targeted beneficiaries of the foundation’s interventions, Mr Salako said it will primarily fund research based postgraduate degree programmes of selected junior and mid-level researchers across private and public academic, training and research institutions in Nigeria.
He added that every Nigerian across the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory is eligible to apply for the programmes of the Foundation.
Also speaking, Mr Gureje said the foundation would support candidates for PhD and medical fellowship programmes, offer travel grants, postdoctoral fellowships, and initiate sabbatical and endowed awards while also supporting grantsmanship training and mentorship programmes.
The executive director of the foundation, Olajide Sobande, appealed to Nigerians to support the initiative, even as he thanked both the trustees of the foundation and the NIMR management for their foresight and their humanitarian efforts. He also thanked the media for its efforts so far, and appealed for more responsive and responsible reporting as they affect humanity.
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