Chioma Umeha, announced that the prevalence study for Humanpapilloma Virus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer will be out this year. Excerpt:
The issue of misdiagnoses is a serious problem in this part of the
world. How do you think we can improve on laboratory services,
especially as concerns Cancers?
Diagnosis involves the technician that is manpower development. The next
is the technology. Are we using the appropriate technology? If we are
using the updated technology, then with trained manpower, we should be
able to reduce misdiagnoses to barest minimum. The other thing is the
technique. Are we using the right technique? If we are using the right
technique, then we will get the right answer. We need to train because
capacity development is very important. We also have to continue to
calibrate our equipments; otherwise it may give the wrong diagnosis.
What is your assessment on NIMR’s effort in cancer research on Human
Papillomavirus, malaria among other tropical diseases and their national
The institute is also involved in nationwide cancer research concerning
Human Papillomavirus and its national prevalence. The centre is equipped
with a specialize machine, Cobalt 4800 for the characterization of the
subtypes of Human Papilomavirus (HPV).
Another area of study is drug resistance to malaria and mosquito
resistant insecticide treated nets. One of the researchers is doing the
study with a grant from World Health Organization, (WHO) and some
private partners. So, we want to track Artemisinin-based combination
therapies (ACTs) that have been in use and study and confirm the
magnitude of resistance and discover what to do to prevent this.
The institute commissioned a cancer centre last year. When will it take off and what would be the areas of focus?
The cancer research centre has already taken off. As soon as we carry
out research, the findings will be made known to the public, just as we
will provide brief to the government through the Federal Ministry of
Health and this will help to shape the magnitude of the problem, to
develop a policy issue regarding a specific modalities of treatment and
train more people. The truth of the matter is that apart from equipment,
we need training and it should be regular as it is practiced in Europe
The problem Nigeria has is funding and research is not being taken
seriously. Funding for health is about five or six per cent and that
really cannot do anything considering the country’s population. Look at
National Institute of Health of America (NIA), they have billions and
they even give grants to developing countries like Nigeria. The Centre
for Disease and Control (CDC) form that we are using is from NIA and
Medical Research Council (MRC) in the United Kingdom and they vote a lot
of money for research. We believe that the government of Nigeria should
vote substantial amount of money to health sector. And as for the
outcome, health is capital intensive, health research is even more
capital intensive, the equipments are not cheap.
Your institute has a mandate and it is to carry out research for
National development. Can you say that it is on track in fulfilling its
Yes, NIMR, has a mandate and it is to carry out research for National
development. We are to research into diseases of public health
importance communicable and non -communicable. In addition, we are to
disseminate our research findings and carry it to the public and this is
done through scientific publications and policy brief for government
and creating awareness to the public.
What do Nigerians hope to expect from NIMR?
The goal of the institute is to position itself in the area of
dissemination of findings from many ongoing researches and also do
policy brief to the government through Federal ministry of health. Once
we finish collecting data, we need to analyze the data, we do not want
to hurriedly put something in place, we want to be sure that whatever we
say is what it is. Research is an ongoing process. We intend to build
capacity of many of our researchers this year and other support staff.
We will recruit in some areas where we do not have sufficient manpower.
At the moment, we are trying to get approval from National Board for
Technical Education (NBTE) to train in the areas of Bio-medical
engineering and technicians as well as award some Diplomas in specific
areas of Bio-technology and Bio-medical training.
Specifically what kind of work are you doing to address the issue of drug resistance to malaria?
We have researches going on in this area with a focus to manage and
incubate mosquitoes. We have a very strong malaria research group. I
earlier discussed about tracking the malaria resistance, ACT drugs, of
course you know that the essence of insecticide treated net is to kill
the mosquitoes once they touch the net.
But, the drugs are now Malaria resistant…
It used to kill mosquitoes, but it is becoming resistant. It will just
demobilize the mosquitoes for a while that is why we talk about genetic
mutation. We are to study further on that, so that we overcome it. That
is the essence of research, we are doing that and we are in the field.
What stage is the institute?
We are in the stage of doing a laboratory work, the laboratory studies
on mosquitoes. We do this with mosquitoes and also on the parasite
itself and in that case, at the end of it all, we will be able to come
up and say, this is the degree of prevalence of the resistance to
insecticide treated net; this is the degree of prevalence of resistance
to ACT and then of course we begin to discuss how we can overcome it,
then compare our efforts to other centers and countries so that we can
also key in and work together in collaboration.
Many countries of the world, for instance, Thailand is expecting to
achieve malaria elimination by 2030. What is the situation in Nigeria?
There has been increased momentum on the areas of malaria prevention
since 2002 till date. The federal government has a programme for this.
What the institute is doing is to conduct research to follow up and to
track because initially when the ACTs emerged, nobody was talking about
resistance but, we have been tracking it and the insecticide treated
net. We have an out station in Maiduguri to study trans- border
diseases, including malaria and their own type of mosquitoes there, but,
because of the insurgency we cannot go there.
Is that the only place we have trans-border disease control Centre?
We cannot have stations in every border, but, we use that as a model to
study trans- border diseases. We have another station in Kainji to study
neglected tropical diseases.
What is the place of medical research in the National Health Act
which was signed into law by former President, Goodluck Jonathan?
In fact, the National Health Act has captured very strategically health
research. So in terms of its role it has the whole section of research
committees. What we are looking for is the implementation. Several other
committees are working to see how we can start the implementation
process. We will also ensure that the National Health Act is monitored
Tuesday, 22 November 2016
Chioma Umeha is an investigative journalist and editor with decades of experience in reporting health, science, business, education, politics, women and gender issues in Africa. She is a multiple award winning journalist and has attended several local and international workshops/trainings. Chioma is a member of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), International AIDS Society (IAS) Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ), Journalists' Alliance for PMTCT in Nigeria, Health Writers Association of Nigeria (HEWAN), Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport among others. She is also Chairman, Society for Media Advocacy on Health in Nigeria, a body of health journalists that largely uses advocacy, statistics and analytical research to secure the health and wellbeing of the people through development journalism. Chioma holds a M.A. degree in International Relations and Strategic Studies from Lagos State University, B.Sc. degree in Mass Communication from Enugu State University of Science and Technology. In the religious circle, she is a Sunday School Teacher and a Counsellor. She is happily married to Don Umeha and blessed with three lovely children.
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