March 4, 2021

The great Nigerian HIV/AIDS cure

Did Nigerian professor, Isaiah Ibeh, actually find a cure to HIV/AIDS or it was another Abalaka moment? In the past decade, there have been various hoax cures in West Africa. In 1991, the Kenyan Head of State, Daniel Arap Moi, excitedly announced that a local researcher had found AIDS cure called Kemron, and 50 people had been successfully treated. The drug was found to be as effective as placebo. I dismissed the Ibeh news report because there were too many holes in the story. I mean, how does a researcher start working on HIV/AIDS cure in 2010 and by early 2013, he is shouting “Eureka” like Archimedes? Was the excitement about hope for humanity, or that he was at the “threshold of history” like he said or he simply forgot to be a scientist first? A friend of mine who happens to be in the medical sciences, read the report and said, …There is no information from the article to tell us how they know the drug works, or the proposed mechanism of action, or a clinical trial confirming cure. 

Only one outcome was given – body weight. Nothing on viral load, nothing on CD4 count, nothing on seroconversion, NOTHING…. And then the name of the drug is DECONCOTION? Also, you start working on the drug in 2010 and in 2 years you have a CURE…how??? magic??? Drug development takes on average a decade…there are 4 stages of drug development…you start with animal testing, then even when you get to human studies, there are at least 3 stages (Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3), each of these phases is meticulously performed and documented, and published in peer-reviewed medical journals or submitted to drug authorities. I tried checking online for any published, peer-reviewed article on the "discovery" – NOTHING… I also thought it was curious when the Professor indicated that the latest testing was on five people. There was nothing about whether there had been others that had gone through the testing. Did the Professor base his claim on a mere five people? It was, and is still fuzzy. It did not help that the Professor announced that the “cure” was taken to the US to be reviewed by other toxicologists. Knowing our collective psyche, he chose the right place for self-validation. Imagine if he said he took the drug to a laboratory in Ghana? To be honest, Professor Ibeh showed restraint when he stated the new drug was “possible cure” but then, ‘his’ story had “gone viral” and, the damage done. In the past few days, the University has disassociated itself from his cure, NAFDAC has denounced him and the professor himself has recanted. Since then, the whole Nolly-drama has spun a load of conspiracy theories by various commentators. There are some who say pharmaceutical companies would rather produce antiretroviral drugs than allow a cure to surface in the market. They have a point but how does that account for the billions of dollars that have been spent on HIV/AIDS research, some of them ongoing as you read this piece? This piece is dedicated to those who claim Ibeh’s breakthrough is tainted with racial politics; that the powers that be will never allow a Black man to discover a cure for HIV/AIDS, will frustrate our best efforts and that such discovery will only come from the Western world. While it is true that the Western world will not mind adding HIV/AIDS cure discovery to their cap, it is dishonest to suggest that that was what played out in the case of Prof Ibeh. There is a lot about Professor Ibeh and ‘his HIV/AIDS faux pas that encapsulates what is wrong, perennially, with Nigeria’s Ivory Towers. I will not go into details except to enjoin those who have been talking about why we should encourage one of our own and promote discoveries from this part of the world to put their money where their mouth is. It is not enough to form a tiwantiwa mentality, chanting Black Power all over the place, if we are not ready to pay. Those ‘Oyinbo’ universities make all those discoveries not only because they have intelligent faculty but because they are heavily funded both by private individuals and organizations. Scientific breakthroughs are not magical, they take hard work and funds. Nigerians who have not made similar investments in their own universities simply want to reap what they have not sown. Sorry, it does not work like that. When the Federal Government gives approval for another mushroom University to be built in a particular state, politicians fight one another to have the school put in their hometown but beyond that, do we ever see them giving any money to the Universities for the advancement of knowledge? How many of the billionaires in Nigeria have ever donated, altruistically, to a Nigerian university? How many of us have ever given up some items of self-gratification so that we could contribute the money to scientific research? Can you tell Nigerians who save up money, by hook and crook, to go on pilgrimage, to give it up to their local university for research purposes, and consider that as much an act of worship and they will listen? How many people have died and allocated a portion of their inheritance to any research institution? In fact, how many research institutions are in Nigeria and how equipped are they? So why do we expect Nigerians to match up with their foreign counterparts? In a country where N10.5bn was allocated for 7 universities (at the going rate of N1.5bn) and a VP lodge was to be built at an initial price of N2bn, how can anyone seriously expect major scientific breakthroughs? Can we try and be realistic at least? This is not to say that Nigerians cannot make it through the odds; the mind of a man has the ability to traverse even the hardest circumstances but such cases are always few and far between. The case of Professor Ibeh, as I see it, is a cry for help and should be treated as such. We need more than this superficial show of racial dignity to advance as a people. It takes work. A lot of work; self-discipline and self-denial! If you doubt this, ask the Asians.


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