On the most recent World Sickle Cell day, Nigeria hosted a ceremony to commemorate the day. It was announced that Nigeria has the highest rate of sickle cell sufferers in the entire world. The specifics of this statistic are even more alarming. In fact, of the 200,000 babies born with the disease on the African continent, 150,000 of them are Nigerian Furthermore, 100,000 Nigerian children are lost to the disease annually and 8% of the nation's child mortality deaths stem from sickle cell disease.
During the event, Nigeria's new Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, explained that his ministry was working with various health groups and organizations to tackle the disease and bring respite to sufferers. He noted a country-wide push to screen as many newborns for the disease as possible. Specifically, the federal government plans to purchase three High Performance Liquid Chromatography machines for screening purposes and is considering the acquisition of bone marrow transplant technology which has been shown to cure the disease. Chukwu went on to add that the government will purchase proguanil, which is a drug used to treat the disease and promised that the Ministry of Health will provide “routine drugs and commodities such as multi-vitamins, folic acid, anti-biotics, insecticide treated nets and other anti-malarial drugs free to sickle sufferers in approved health facilities across the country.”
No mention of Nicosan?
While it is good to know that the Jonathan administration plans to not only screen for, but obtain the technology to cure SCD, it is odd that Chukwu failed to mention Nicosan. Nicosan is a patented drug that has been shown to improve the life condition of SCD sufferers. In fact, those using the drug tend to not experience the painful and debilitating 'crises' incidents that are a primary symptom of SCD. The drug was created from a Nigerian herbal remedy and the Nigerian government, under former President Obasanjo, pumped millions into its creation. Currently, a combination of negligence, greed and corruption, led to a halt in the manufacture and sale of the drug and the license is in limbo due to a lack of government support. That being the case, why would the federal government not want to re-inject life into Nicosan's manufacture - a drug that is indigenous to the country and could transform the lives of millions?
In this year, when Nigeria plans to celebrate its 50th year of independence, Nicosan could bring pride to citizens, be an example of Nigerian success and allow the country to become the herbal remedy capital of the world. Why buy Proguanil but not invest in a home-made product?
The Nigerian government plans to give money to Astra Zeneca, the manufacturer of Proguanil. Astra Zeneca is a British-Swedish pharmaceutical company and giving it money for its drug might help to improve the lives of Nigerian SCD sufferers, but in the long run, that purchase agreement will do little to build Nigeria's intellectual capacity. Furthermore, Nigeria would have ignored a local and sensible option while making 'others' richer.
This approach only reinforces the widely held belief that the Nigerian government and the officials that constitute it, are more interested in making money from inflated contracts than taking visionary steps to improve Nigeria's short- and long term needs. And, the possibility that Nigeria has no concise record of how many sickle cell patients there are in the country represents another disturbing reality about Nigeria, it's leadership and the challenges the country must face in order to become a country that functions and could become one of the most important in the world.
By Solomon Sydelle