By Hassan Zaggi
A renown medical laboratory scientist, Dr. Godswil Okara, has described as shameful the continued importation of vaccines from foreign countries by the federal government.
He made his position known in an interview with The AUTHORITY in Abuja.
According to Okara, some years back, Nigeria was producing vaccines in Vaccine Production Laboratory in Yabba, Lagos.
The laboratory is now under lock and key and has been overtaken by weeds.
While advancing reasons why the country could no more produce vaccines, he said: “It is because we have allowed our system to go into dilapidation. The Nigerian medical laboratory scientists were producing Yellow Fever vaccine in Yaba, Lagos.
“We thank God that our senior colleague who was in charge- Mr. M.S.O Nwachukwu, a medical laboratory scientist, the first President of our Association is still alive. They produced Smallpox and Yellow Fever vaccines in the Vaccine Production Laboratory in Yabba.
“If you go there now, the place is under lock and key. The compound is overtaken by weeds.
“It is pathetic that as a nation, we prefer importation, perhaps because of the monetary gain by the people behind the importation.”
He lamented that instead of the government to develop both human and infrastructural capacity in-country, upgrade the facilities, move it from the manual and laborious methods that was in use in the 1960s and 70s, it prefer importation.
Responding to a question on the plan by the federal government to inaugurate a national reference laboratory in the next few months, Dr. Okara said that it is possible and doable.
He, however, argued that even if the laboratory is inaugurated, there is the need to develop the needed skill in-country that will manage it.
“Even if you import a laboratory from the moon or from the heaven, you need appropriately skilled- personnel to make whatever equipment and gadgets you have brought to produce the desired result that they are intended to produce.
“So, first thing first, we must develop capacity in-country. I must also add that as we speak, we have colleagues, medical laboratory scientists, we also have physicians who have been trained but because the facilities are not there, often, they become hot cakes for foreign countries to recruit and employ.
“Some of them are out of the country working in many centres.
“As we speak, some of them are working at the National Institute of Health, USA, while some are working with CDC Atlanta.
“Since our country prefers to look the other way and prefer to send samples outside, it is a shame in the 21st century, honestly.”
Dr. Okara who was visibly worried about the situation recalled that: “In the fight against smallpox some years back, the World Health Organisation (WHO), commissioned the Vaccine Production Laboratory in Yabba to produce 10 million doses of smallpox vaccine.
“Mr. M.S.O Nwachukwu who was in charge of that laboratory said that they produced more than 10 million doses and they were exported to the West African countries in the fight against smallpox.
“Those were the vaccines used in eradicating smallpox in our West African sub-region.
“All of a sudden, Nigeria now sends blood samples to other West African countries for isolation of the causative agents of disease and diagnosis.
“This is also not unconnected with the unhealthy professional rivalry in the health sector, where some people feel that other health professionals should not function in line with their training and statutory professional empowerment. It is a shame of a country.”