Our new human virology laboratory will expand services, reduce cancer – Ujah

Professor Innocent Ujah is the Director-General (DG) and Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) Yaba, Lagos. Ujah recently addressed journalists on the efforts of the institute since the past three years when he assumed duty. CHIOMA UMEHA (HEALTH EDITOR) was there and has the details. Excerpt:

Professor Innocent Ujah
Discuss the link between the recent expansion in the services of human virology laboratory (HVL) and improvement health care delivery by the institute?
In order to expand and improve the quality services of the Human Virology Laboratory (The Only ISO Certified Laboratory in the country), we had to carry out extension of the Laboratory.   I am delighted to report that the building extension is completed, fully furnished and have been commissioned by the former Minister of State for health, Dr Mohammed Ali Pate. It is also necessary to state that in the HVL, is a newly procured COBAS 4800 MACHINE, a machine used for screening for Human Papilloma virus (1IPV), the virus that is known to cause cancer of the cervix. It will be used to conduct a national survey on the prevalence of Human Papilloma virus. In addition, the machine will be used to study the genotypes (sub-types) of the virus and will generate evidence that will inform policy on cancer of the cervix prevention in the country as well as providing clinical service to women. Our Institute is the first and only Institution that has this type of machine in the West African Sub-region.

How has the recent upgrading of Biological Safety Level-3 laboratory for MDR-TB research helped to increase your capacity in service delivery?
Recently, our TB Laboratory was upgraded to a Bio-Safety Level-3 Laboratory and has been fully furnished and equipped with the state-of-the art equipment. The Bio-Safety Level-3 Laboratory will enhance our research into Multi-drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB). The project was executed courtesy of Family Health International (FHISGO) with support from USAID. Also, the building of Bio-safety Level-3 Laboratory and extension of the HVL have created jobs for over 1000 skilled and unskilled workforce and this effectively contributes to the federal government’s effort at providing jobs and empowerment for Nigerians, which also helps to keep miscreants out of the street.

Assess efforts of the institute in the dissemination of research findings?
As a research institute, one of our mandates is to disseminate research findings. In response to this mandate, NIMR has institutionalized Annual Scientific Conference and an International conference which is done every three years. The conferences have huge participation and  are used to disseminate our research findings and share experiences among researchers from across the globe that will be benefit not only the scientists but also policy makers and organised private sector. We also produce policy briefs for policy makers which are made available to the Federal Ministry of Health from time to time. In addition, we have regularly engaged the media during which we present some of our research findings for the benefit of the public. We also have upgraded and improved the quality of the Institute’s Journal, The Journal of Clinical and Biomedical Research.

Assess the scope of research by the institute?
Our Research Institute is the only medical research in the Nigeria, therefore, the entire country is our constituency. But unfortunately, the Institute has only two outstations (Kainji in Niger State and Maiduguri in Borno State). Our desire to expand our operational base has been stiffened by inadequate funding. We need to refocus our research activities in all the geopolitical zones, as each zone has distinct social, cultural and religious background that may make it difficult to extrapolate research findings from one geopolitical zone on another. There is therefore the compelling need to establish research offices in the zones where currently none exists.

A recent report stated that Africa has access to only five per cent of research grants. What are the innovations for improved access to research grants in the country?
We are aware that government alone cannot fund research and therefore, we were determined to source for funds from other sources.  We engaged ourselves in advocacy to many organisations and agencies. One of such agencies is CDC Nigeria. The Country Director Dr Okey Nwanyanwu must be commended as he drew our attention to the need to register with National Institute of Health (NHI) and obtain DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) to access funds directly from NHI in response to calls for proposals.

As I speak, the Institute has effectively registered and now has a DUNS number. The immediate consequence from the registration is success recorded in three of our proposals which have been approved for funding. The first research study for funding will commence this September. As a Research Institution, I consider this as a very  major achievements, as it is the first time ever the Institute is accessing fund directly without going through a third party.

Assess efforts of the institute in creating enabling work environment for research?
For the first time in the history of the Institute, a five-year-strategic plan was developed to give direction to the operation of the Institute. Since the past three years, we have intensified efforts in building capacity of our staff, researchers and scientists from other institutions in the country and abroad. Such capacity development and knowledge management courses include; grants writing workshops and mentorship which is to ensure that our proposals are competitive. Others are; Malaria microscopy training for physicians, scientists, laboratory scientists and laboratory technicians. In addition, we carry out yearly training courses on molecular biology and bioinformatics with impressive attendance and participation. Over 200 scientists and IT students have benefited from our capacity building training courses during this period under review.

Discuss the institute’s collaboration and partnerships with international organizations?
The Institute has continued to expand its collaboration and partnership. The long standing relationship between Partec (Germany) and NIMR has resulted in the signing of an MOU whereby Partec will establish a centre for excellence for training laboratory technologists and technicians. NIMR also have a long standing relationship with both Roche Diagnostics and Roche Pharma from which both the institute and the general public have benefitted greatly.

For Instance, our DNA studies of Hepatitis 13 and C viruses has been made possible through our collaboration with Roche Diagnostics. Also, the Cobas 4800 Machine was given to NIMR by Roche Diagnostics, through an arrangement which makes it easier to pay, otherwise, it would have been impossible to procure the equipment at this time of poor funding of the institute. We also enjoy excellent collaboration with the Centre for Global Health, Northwestern University and also International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI).

State your achievements, challenges and plans ahead of 2015 which the terminal year of the MDGS.
On assumption of duty in the Institute on the May 22 2010, I outlined the structure of my administration with well defined objectives anchored on good governance, respect for due process, accountability and rule of law, which are the basic ingredients for re-positioning taking the foremost Health Research Institute in Nigeria to be a centre of excellence for health research. I believe that we are working in line with this principle of my administration. The celebration of the anniversary was used as a platform to discuss evidence-based study that seeks to proffer solutions to common health problems that afflict our people. This we did by selecting a topic on contemporary health issue and practically discussed possible solutions. The key topic was: Humanitarian Disaster risk Management: The case study of flooding in Nigeria which tackled social, economic and health consequences of flooding, as witnessed between August and November, last year. 

There is need to x-ray the problem of flooding and find permanent solutions to avert it. Experts in from different discussed this component of humanitarian crisis that has assumed International concern. We also used the occasion to review our activities during the past year and re-strategize for improved performance in the coming year, apart from increasing awareness among policy makers and other Nigerians on the mandate of NIMR and the available facilities for research, clinical services, capacity development and partnership for promoting quality of health research, and other services through shared knowledge and experiences.
We need to intensify our efforts in sustaining health capacity development to generate new knowledge that will impact the health of Nigerians. We need to develop a commercial unit of the institute using NIMR Consult currently being registered with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). We have to Intensity our advocacy to policy makers to appreciate the value of research so that they can substantially invest in health research for national development.

This story was published in Newswatch Times on August 29,  2013.


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