Some weeks ago, I was in the office of one of my Professors. I had sought her guidance on my research prospect. The ensuing discussion was about medical research in our society. In the end she requested I do more findings on happenings around. This led me to seek an understanding of the subject. My findings were interesting and saddening.
History of Medical Research in Nigeria
Medical research in Nigeria is as old as humans can remember. According to Nwafor Chidozie in a 2015 publication in the Journal for Studies in Management and Planning, History has it that Nigerians always found a way to combat ailments through the use of crude concussions prepared mostly from plant sources. Even with the advent of modern medicine, these native practices strongly exist with accompanying results.
Emergence of institutes
According to reports submitted by the National Consultative Team and the National Advisory Committee on Essential National Health Research In a March 2000, Medical research began to develop in Nigeria in 1920 when the Rockefeller Foundation established the Yellow Fever Commission. The report recounts the evolution of bodies responsible for the management of science in general and health research in particular. The bodies mentioned include the Nigerian Council for Science and Technology (NCST, 1970), the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA, 1977) and The Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR, 1977). The later ones include; National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Development (NIPRD) and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
Outcomes and Challenges
Nigeria has had a fair number of novel medical research with some making waves globally. There have been works on Lassa fever, discovery and testing of pharmacological compounds, molecular study of diseases and a host of others. However, this is shadowed by the numerous challenges present in the field.
In a research to sample the opinions of medical researchers in the country, published in the Journal of Human Research Ethics, Adeleye and Adebamowo, discovered that amidst several factors, researchers in the country admit several wrongdoings in the field. Also Nwafor Chidozie, in his publication highlighted problems associated with investment and funding, infrastructures, relocation of bright minds and the mode of communication.
Over the years, the Federal Government’s budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Health has been below par. In 2015, the health budget was 257 billion Naira, representing about 5.5 per cent of the national budget which is a far cry from the 15 per cent standard stipulated by the World Health Organization. Of this allocation, the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) which is under the Federal Ministry of health had a total allocation of 876,164,637 Naira. Again, only about 6 per cent of this (50 million Naira) covers total Capital Expenditure. Other related health and medical research agencies face almost the same ordeal.
If funding is poor, infrastructure will equally be poor. This is simply because funds are needed to build and maintain structures, as well as purchase facilities and upgrade existing ones. Nigeria, a country of approximately 170 million people sadly cannot boast of 5 standard medical research centers functioning at full capacity. The resultant effect is that we cannot carry out comprehensive data collection and analysis for research within the shores of the country.
Brain drain is simply the loss of intellectual and technical labor through the movement of such labor to more favorable geographic, economic or professional environment. This sequence transcends almost all professions in the country. We continue to experience a mass exodus of our best brains to other viable countries because we have refused to take the necessary measures to keep them within.
Wide Communication Gap
Looking critically at our system of communicating results and opinions, one would find a wide gap. It is assumed that if people knew better, they would do better. A large number of the populace do not have access to medical and health information. This is more evident in rural areas as most medical services are concentrated within urban settlements. The challenge herein lies in the fact that most rural dwellers cannot access major information platforms such as the electronic and print media; hence, information campaigns have to be taken physically to these places incurring more logistic cost. Another unfortunate scenario is the fact that local researchers hardly get their works published in reputable international journals.
My findings aligns with the Professor’s thoughts. The situation we have found ourselves is alarming and we must act soon. With my findings, I want to suggest:
- Adherence to the World Health Organization set standard of 15 per cent national health budgetary allocation, revision of the budget structure and credence given to capital expenditure over recurrent expenditure.
- Implementation of every aspect of the National Strategic Health Development Plan launched in 2010.
- Sustenance of existing medical research institutes, and the establishment of more spread across the geo-political zones.
- Encouraging corporate sponsorship of research programs in the country. We must also ensure training and retraining of the country’s researchers both locally and internationally.
- Multi-sectoral collaboration, liaising with Nigerian academics and intellectuals in the diaspora, networking with western and European universities that have African-centered initiative programs, and funding by government, foundations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), among others, to achieve synergistic effects.