Lagos, Abuja, Ado Ekiti, Akure, Yola — Madagascar's touted herbal cure for COVID-19 is on its way to Nigeria for clinical analysis of its efficacy by the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha, has said.
He spoke yesterday at the task force's daily press briefing in Abuja and said President Muhammadu Buhari had directed PTF to procure the African herbal mixture, explaining, however, that it, like others in the country, would be subjected to the drug regulatory authorities' validation before it could be used for the treatment of the patients.
He said the president had also directed PTF to go to Guinea Bissau to pick up the mixture better known as COVID-Organics.
But, COVID-19's victims in the country rose to 4,641 yesterday as 242 more persons were infected. However, 124 persons were discharged, bringing the total number of those yanked off its hook to 902. Unfortunately, 10 more persons succumbed to its fatality, raising the figure of the dead to 150 across 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
According to the figures by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), 242 new cases came from 14 states, including Lagos 88, Kano 64, Katsina 49, Kaduna 13, Ogun nine, Gombe six, Adamawa four, FCT three, Ondo one, Oyo one, Rivers one, Zamfara one, Borno one, and Bauchi one.
The federal government, however, disclosed that the plant used for the herbal drug produced by the Republic of Madagascar also grows in Nigeria.
The president was perhaps encouraged to give the directive by the claim by Madagascar that at least 55 COVID-19 patients in the country had recovered after treatment with the herbal remedy for the disease.
The federal government has also encouraged each state of the federation to set up isolation centres with a minimum of 300 beds each, saying Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Sokoto and Kano states as well as the FCT had signed up to participate in the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s solidarity trial to help find an effective treatment for the disease.
Meanwhile, the 320-bed capacity isolation centre set up by THISDAY Newspapers and partners at the THISDAY Dome in Abuja would be inaugurated today.
Mustapha disclosed that some quantity of COVID-Organics, meant for Nigeria, had already been dispatched from the Pacific Ocean Island country to Guinea Bissau.
According to him, Madagascar donated some of the products to Nigeria through Guinea-Bissau, adding that arrangements were being made to pick them up.
He, however, said Buhari had directed that the syrup should be properly investigated without any prejudice to ascertain its safety for human consumption.
Mustapha also condemned the reported assaults on health workers at some isolation centres.
He said: "Let me provide further information with regards to the syrup from Madagascar. It has been freighted to Guinea Bissau by the President of Madagascar. Certain allocations have been made to different countries. We have an indication that some quantity has been allocated and we are supposed to make arrangements to freight it out of Guinea Bissau to Nigeria.
"We have received instructions from Mr. President to make arrangement to freight it with a clear instruction that we should subject it to validation process similar to what will happen to any other medicine or syrup or vaccine that is discovered or created internally.
"So, it will be subjected to the same process before it is put into any form of use and there will be no exemption for that."
Guinea-Bissau was said to have received more than 16,000 doses, which she's distributing to 14 other African nations.
Plant Extract also Grows in Nigeria, Says FG
Also speaking during the briefing, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said the plant used for the herbal drug also grows in the country.
He said it would be subjected to analysis by NIPRD to determine its efficacy and safety before it could be adopted for the treatment of COVID-19.
The minister said: "We are going to get samples of the herb of the botanical product for analysis and also probably use that opportunity to speak with the health authorities there particularly the scientific community on how they use it.
"We will also give it to the research community here with us to examine and see what they can do with it.
"We understand that it is something called Artemisia Annua, which also grows here. But we would like to get that sample and compare it with the strain here to know if they are exactly identical or similar and then see what properties it has.
"It will be subjected to analysis to find out what works in there and how it works and is used in getting a cure. All countries around the world are interested in finding a cure and we are not different. So, we'll look at all options and promises that have been made.
"Before we give any of these medicines to our people, we will make sure they are actually safe and that they work."
Madagascar Claims 55 Patients Recovered after Treatment
Madagascar has claimed that at least 55 patients have recovered after being treated with the country's herbal remedy for the disease.
The Cable quoted L' Express de Madagascar as saying that the number of COVID-19 patients said to have been "cured" with the drug -- which is bottled as herbal tea -- rose after three recoveries were announced on Saturday.
The 55 patients were among those that were administered COVID-Organics since it was launched in April.
The paper reported that "treatment of (COVID-19) patients has been based" on the drug since it was introduced.
"The same day that the CVO herbal tea was launched, two coronavirus patients who consumed it came out cured," L'Express de Madagascar reported.
"Until yesterday, fifty-five people have been declared cured since the adoption of CVO herbal tea treatment twenty days ago."
It added that to aid the fight against COVID-19, the drug was being distributed freely in parts of the country.
Launched in April 20, COVID-Organics was developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (IMRA).
Its main ingredient is said to be sweet wormwood (Artemisia Annua), a plant of Asian origin from where the anti-malarial drug, artemisinin, came.
FG Demands Minimum of 300-bed Isolation Centres from States
Mustapha told the press conference yesterday that each state of the federation had been encouraged to set up isolation centres and wards (including ICU) with a minimum of 300 beds each.
He noted that such would help accommodate levels 1 and 2 cases.
He raised the alarm that the exponential spread of the virus in the country had resulted in a shortage of bed spaces in the isolation centres, particularly in the high burdened states.
He noted the need to take care of different categories of COVID-19 patients including people living with disabilities, terminal conditions and other underlying factors/co-morbidities.
Mustapha said: "From a realistic postulation of what is happening, we don't have to wait till when bed spaces are exhausted before you raise the stakes. Over a month ago, I said that we are in a constant state to provide at least a 300-bed facility as isolation in addition to a part of it being used as a management centre, because If you have an ICU, it is a management centre.
"We are looking at the modelling, we are looking at the figures as they rise and are beginning to see that in a particular state, the figures are climbing; from 20 to 30 a day to 80 and 100 a day. You know that definitely whatever the calculations are in terms of bed space, very soon that figure will soon far outstrip the bed space that is available. That is why we are saying take advantage of every offer that has been made."
He asked the states to take advantage of the offer by the Catholic Bishops, which have over 425 health facilities, from hospitals to clinics to dispensaries across the country in developing COVID-19 response.
FG to Implement WHO's Treatment Trial in FCT, Lagos, Four Others
In a related development, Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Sokoto and Kano states, as well as the FCT, have signed up to participate in the WHO's solidarity trial to help find an effective treatment for the virus.
The solidarity trial is an international clinical trial and part of the WHO's efforts to develop an effective treatment regimen and vaccines to combat the pandemic.
Ehanire, made this known during the daily briefing.
He said: "The federal government is cooperating with WHO on the treatment regimen solidarity trial with the following states enrolled: Lagos, FCT, Ogun, Kaduna, Sokoto and Kano."
He said as of yesterday, Nigeria had ramped up testing by 1,127 to a total of 27,078 tests, which yielded 4,399 cases in 35 states, with a gender ratio of 70 to 30 per cent for men and women.
Ehanire said: "Kogi and Cross River states have not reported any cases, but we are optimistic that we can work with the states' Health Ministries to validate this in due course, when we engage the state authorities.
"A team from the Ministry of Health, made up of experts from various specialities, including the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), is on standby to proceed to Calabar as soon as travel arrangements can be made, taking with them, resource to support the health system.
"Senior management of the Federal Ministry of Health and clinical case managers in our hospitals, this morning participated in a multinational teleconference with Chinese medical and academic experts in Beijing, where much insight was gained into the treatment strategy of China and other matters of common interest were discussed. The learning from this intervention is invaluable in re-examining our methods."
Lagos, Adamawa, Ekiti Discharge another 43 Patients
In another development, Lagos, Adamawa and Ekiti states have discharged another batch of 43 patients after full recovery.
Lagos State Government said it discharged 33 more patients from its isolation centres, bringing to 502 the total number of successfully treated persons in the state.
Announcing this yesterday, the Incident Commander on COVID-19 in the state, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said 24 are males, while nine are females, adding that they are all Nigerians.
He said: "17 were discharged from Onikan Isolation Centre, while 16 were discharged from Eti-Osa (Landmark) Isolation Centre. They have fully recovered and tested negative twice consecutively to COVID-19."
Ekiti State Government also yesterday discharged five out of the 10 patients from the isolation centre.
It also disclosed its plan to expand the isolation centre to 100- bed space for more preparation for the pandemic.
At a press conference on the update of the activities of Ekiti State Task Force on COVID-19, the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Mojisola Kolade, said: "We are discharging five patients today out of the 10 active cases. The discharged patients are healthy now; they have been tested negative of COVID-19."
Adamawa State Government has also discharged five patients after they were confirmed negative by NCDC.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the state had 17 COVID-19 patients, while five were already discharged.
Governor Ahmadu Fintiri announced the discharge of the patients yesterday in Yola.
He said those discharged included the first index case in the state.
Ondo Records First Death
Ondo State yesterday recorded its first COVID-19 death.
While briefing journalists on the situation in the state, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu said the deceased was one of the three new cases recorded in the state.
According to Akeredolu, the man, who was already a patient with a renal condition arrived Ipe Akoko in Akoko South East Local Government Area of the state on April 27 in spite of the lockdown and closure of state boundaries.
Akeredolu said the man, who tested positive for COVID-19 and admitted at the IDH, was further diagnosed as a patient of renal condition.
He said the man's renal condition made treatment and recovery more complicated.
While commiserating with the family of the deceased, Akeredolu commended health workers at the IDH, saying they had shown invaluable sacrifice, diligence and an exceptional sense of duty.
FG to Stagger Evacuation Flights for Nigerians Abroad
Also speaking during the briefing, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Geoffrey Onyeama, disclosed that due to the high number of Nigerians wishing to be evacuated, the federal government would stagger the evacuation flights because of the lack of facilities to accommodate all the returnees at the same time.
According to him, the government has reached a saturation point in terms of availability of facilities.
"So, we will be staggering our flights so that we deal with the ones we have in place before bringing back others. We don't have the capacity to absorb all of them," he said.
Research Institute Calls for Dedicated Fund for Vaccines Production
In a related development, the Director-General, Nigeria Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Prof. Babatunde Salako, has stated that the country does not have enough funding to bankroll the development of a vaccine against COVID-19 and called for a dedicated fund for the production of vaccines.
Speaking on Channels TV yesterday, he said the kind of funding needed for vaccine production must be from a dedicated pool of funds, adding that grants from donor organisations could provide the breakthrough required against the virus.
He said: "That Nigeria has the capacity to produce the vaccine is different from developing it. It is only when we start that we can tell whether or not we can do it.
"On home-grown solution to COVID-19 and Lassa fever, we are capable provided appropriate and adequate financing is made available. Often times, there are not enough funds to prosecute these projects. But if we have dedicated fund, there are quite a number of brilliant Nigerians that can tackle the problem. But what we hear is that there is no fund.
"We don't have dedicated funds for Lassa fever, meningitis, and COVID-19. If we have that and put it out for Nigerian researchers, we are sure solutions will come out from there."
On whether NIMR was underfunded, he said underfunding was an issue for every agency of government, adding that with prioritisation, institutes and researchers in Nigeria would have the opportunity to make their own contributions.
"NIMR does not have enough funding to develop a vaccine," he said.
He said although there had not been more funding for NIMR since the COVID-19 outbreak started in the country, the institute was expectant.
He said the institute had gone back to the table to look at what it could do, adding that it had decided to begin the process of producing the recombinant vaccine.
"This is ongoing as we speak. In the next two weeks, we will tell you if we will be able to move beyond that stage.
"There are other researches going on for drug repurposing. Very soon, we will be starting clinical trial on Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine. The processes take a long time. We need to get approval from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). That is the stage we are now," he added.
Ngige to Meet Health Workers over their Grievances
The leadership of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and that of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) and the Ministry of Health would be meeting with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, today in Abuja to resolve their grievances.
In his situation report at the PTF briefing yesterday, the NCDC boss, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said Nigerians should be ready to adjust to the reality of the new phase of community transmission, especially in Lagos, Kano and most other states in the northern part of the country.
Speaking on the laboratory testing speed, Ihekweazu said it would take averagely 24 hours for samples to get to the laboratories.
He said the timeframe for the test result depends on the efficiency of all the various stages involved in sample collection and transmission to the laboratories.
Regarding the infection rate in Yobe State, Ihekweazu said he would personally get the true facts about the state.
THISDAY Dome COVID-19 Testing, Tracing, Treatment Centre to be Inaugurated Today
The world class THISDAY Dome Testing, Tracing and Treatment Centre situated at the Central Business District in Abuja would be inaugurated today, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said yesterday at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in the nation's capital.
"The THISDAY Dome treatment centre, a project of the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) is complete and ready for commissioning tomorrow (today)," he told his audience, adding: "This centre is fully self-contained, coming with a PCR Laboratory, a fully equipped ICU and an incinerator. This over 270-bed facility adds a tremendous boost to the FCT capacity and capabilities."
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, had earlier at the conference lauded the private sector-driven initiative powered by THISDAY Media & Technology Group and the Sahara Group.
The treatment centre is fitted with foundation wards and ICU centre complete with ventilators, X-ray and dialysis.
Others facilities include 54genetesting mobile lab complete with reagents, and a scalable ability to perform 200-1,000 tests per day.
In addition, it would boast of a rapid tracing App for COVID-19 contact tracing as well as 98-room hotel and conference centre for medical staff for six months.
The project is supported by CACOVID, African Finance Corporation (AFC), Chinese Civil Engineering Company (CCECC), Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Donors to the project are Egbin Plc, The Wood Factory, The Regent Schools, Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) and Ebewele Brown Bespoke & Syari Clothier.
Others are Mama Cass, Traffic CLO, Urban Cuisine, Phase 3 Telecoms and Kenol.
The project is endorsed by the PTF on COVID-19, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and CBN.