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It is stirring that Nigerians are making strides in science worthy of international attention. Two developments highlight this reality: a discovery of new viruses and a decoration for scientific achievement.
The reported discovery of two new viruses by a team of scientists from Nigeria and the United States of America is even more remarkable on account of the central involvement of a local research centre. The team leader, Dr. Christian Hapi, who is the Director, African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, Redeemer’s University, Mowe, Ogun State, gave a useful insight into the significance of the development as well as the importance of the enabling environment. Hapi was quoted as saying, “This discovery points to the fact that the genomics for pathogen discovery platform that we have set up at Redeemer’s University is rapidly advancing health sciences in Africa.”
It is striking that the fever-related viruses, Ekpoma virus-1 (EKV-1) and Ekpoma virus-2 (EKV-2), are named after a local area in Edo State where an investigation was carried out among a study population living in and around Irrua, which is near Ekpoma. Hapi said: “These two new viruses are also related to rabies, which is a very dangerous disease.” He added: “The discovery also shows clearly that there are a lot of potentially dangerous viruses circulating around that science has not yet discovered and there is no diagnosis yet.”
Fortunately, if the experts are to be believed, these viruses do not constitute a threat at the moment. It is noteworthy that the Director, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Abuja, Prof. Abdulsalami Nasidi, who commended the scientific work that led to the discovery, also addressed possible public anxiety. Nasidi said: “There is no potential threat to the country from these viruses for now.”
However, this official reassurance should not be a reason to go to sleep. It would be counter-productive and amount to a defeat for the discovery if the country fails to take advantage of the knowledge. Indeed, what the Ekpoma discovery demonstrates, and which deserves emphasis, is a capacity not only to detect diseases but also to discover their causes; and such capability should be exploited maximally for the benefit of the populace. Hapi correctly observed: “It’s important that the ministry of health should work with us to put in place a surveillance system so that we should be able to identify the pathogens that are responsible for some unknown causes of fever.”
It may be considered a reflection of the abilities of Nigerian scientists that Associate Professor Adeboye Osunkoya of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, United States, was honoured with the Arthur Pardy Stout Award by the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology (USCAP). The prestigious yearly prize is given to a pathologist under age 45 whose publications “have had a major impact on diagnostic Pathology.” Also, it is worth mentioning that Osunkoya, who is Director of Genitourinary Pathology at Emory University, previously won another USCAP prize, The Benjamin Castleman Award, for the best paper published in Human Pathology.
There is no doubt that Osunkoya’s recognition and decoration by his peers, particularly in an international context, speaks volumes about what is possible in a space of possibility. It is a testimony to what Nigerians can achieve when structure and infrastructure are available for the encouragement of scientific work.
These attention-grabbing developments should inspire a greater focus and a more practical concentration on scientific development in the country, especially among scientists and the hierarchs at the policy-making levels. The scientific age requires no less; and there is no room for excuses.