The former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC),Maurice Iwu, is a professor of pharmacognosy who said he has developed compounds believed to cure Severe and Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The Imo State Chairman of the Committee on Coronavirus Prevention and Control, in this interview, speaks on issues bordering on coronavirus.
You were appointed as the Chairman of the Committee for Coronavirus Prevention and Control in Imo State. A recent report had it that you asked Imo citizens to disregard any rumour that the state has recorded cases of coronavirus. How true is that?
I didn’t say that neither did the committee ask anybody to report that Imo is free from coronavirus. We are still investigating suspected cases and reports. And until such reports are confirmed, there is no case yet and that’s a fact. Factually, there is no single confirmed case in the state but we have a suspected case that we are investigating and it is being handled professionally.
It is said that it is only the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that has the sole authority to announce any case or declare if there is a case or not in any state. Does this not contradict your no case in Imo?
It is only the NCDC that has the authority to do that. We should be mindful of individuals creating false news about these issues. People should not try to usurp the role of regulatory agencies. Only NCDC can confirm cases of coronavirus in states of the federation. Someone may want to market himself by engaging in misleading news to create panic.
Are you working in collaboration with NCDC on corona?
We are not interested in announcements, and that is actually why we had a press conference. We are more interested in controlling the situation. Anybody making any pronouncement is doing the wrong thing. The NCDC is working with all the states of the federation and they are the ones in charge of coronvirus cases from the national point of view. What each of the states is doing is to take measures that will help and manage the crisis as it develops.
Talking about preparations to fight the crisis, what is the committee doing to manage the situation in Imo as it has not really erupted?
The committee is in collaboration with the state Ministry of Health and the various sectors of health workers, Nigeria Medical Association, the National Association of Nurses and Midwifes, the representatives of the Medical Laboratory Technologists and so on. The whole idea is to be able to tackle the situation in Imo and take measures on two things: Enlighten the people about the need for personal hygiene, which is very crucial and also to let them know what the authorities are saying from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and NCDC. Our job is essentially to have these people participate in the whole process.
What about kits and medical facilities. Are they really adequate to tackle the situation?
Those are issues that border on the state of preparedness. Imo is aware of what needs to be done because we have facilities on ground and we also need more. But we are taking steps to address those gaps. Luckily for me, I am serving in both Imo and Anambra committees and I also know what is happening in some states of the federation. They are doing their best given the circumstances that they have actually found themselves in both states.
How do we differentiate the symptons of coronavirus from other common symptoms that are associated with normal cold, cough and fever?
Everywhere in the country, adequate announcement are being made through radio, television, newspapers and other channels where people are told what the signs and symptoms are. Then, there are various tests done by the authorities concerned. All that is happening is that more precautions are taken but the most important thing is that people are told to maintain simple hygiene. Wash your hands with soap regularly and, where you do not see water, use sanitizers and then try to maintain social distance. These are the three important things. Every other thing is when people are trying to play with words. Simple hygiene is it.
You are a renowned scientist and it is said that during Ebola crisis, you developed some natural compounds to fight the scourge. Do you have cure for coronavirus as of now?
What we did way back in 2015 is that we tested some compounds from natural products and three of them were active against coronavrius/SARS. SARS stands for Severe and Acute Respiratory Syndrome. And then when this other one occurred, we notified the authorities that we do have compounds that are active against them and they are being developed into a drug. The process of development is usually a little bit more systematic than people know. But then, why it was necessary to inform the authorities is to fast track the development which we were able to do. And also, you heard American President Donald Trump talk about how Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was able to fast track the use of chloroquine for the treatment of coronavirus. So national authorities do that when the need arises and all those things are being considered. So, we do have a compound that is active against coronavirus. And the idea is being developed as we speak.
Talking about Chloroquine and the ensuing information surrounding its use as a drug against coronavirus, what is your stand?
If you look at the doctors who said that, most of the things they said are based on scientific evidence. So, like all science, it is based on the ability to decode and dictate as you find them. What they are doing now is to see whether they can fast track the registration of that drug. It is what we call Re-purposing. Repurposing in medicine is a drug known for something else, and then used for some other things. And that is what we proposed for the compound we made from the Nigerian plant. It is a well known compound that is used for a different purpose but we believe that it can be used for this purpose. Very soon, the developmental aspect will be completed. We are following the due and normal process.
New viruses are beginning to evolve. Are we expecting more viruses in time to come?
I am not a virologist but we live in the tropical part of the world. Viruses, infectious diseases are part and parcel of our normal life. It is important to be prepared just in case any other one comes up. And the facilities that people are building are not only for coronavirus (COVID 19) but also for any other virus that might come up.
Do Africans living in the tropics stand the chance of containing this virus more than the cold region?
What I mean by being a tropical nation is that we live in a part of the world where there is a biological system that conforms to our biological life forms. Any of them can come out at any time. This one is coming from outside but remember that we had Ebola that came from Africa. It doesn’t mean that we cannot contain or manage it better than other nations. It’s just that we realise that our environment is a bit different.
Prof Maurice Iwu Declared They Are Developing Three Compounds Against Coronavirus