Category Archives: Science

Science Has the Power to Boost Agriculture in Africa

The agricultural sector is the world’s largest single employer. It provides jobs for more than 40% of the global population. It’s also the largest source of income and jobs for poor, rural households.

It is, by and large, a successful sector. There have been huge improvements in yields and food production over the past five decades. 

More cereals have been produced annually during the past 40 years than in any earlier period. It is also predicted that more grain will be harvested in 2017 than in any year in history. This is as a consequence of scientific advances, increased fertiliser use and favourable rainfall patterns.

Many of these gains have been felt in Africa. Improved seed varieties, new fertilisers and pesticides, improved credit and market access have all played a role. So have scientific innovations such as improved and more reliable weather prediction, improved drought tolerance and increased resistance to extreme climatic conditions, and cross-breeding for improved efficiency.

And yet hundreds of millions of people in Africa are going hungry every day. Globally, 800 million people are categorised as chronically hungry. Around 30% of them – 227 million people – live in Africa.

So where is the disconnect between food production and food security in Africa? Why does the continent spend about US $40 billion a year importing food when so many of its own residents are farmers? And how can this situation be changed?

At least part of the answer lies with science. There are already several excellent examples of ways in which science has led to dramatic increases in food production and moved farmers in some countries closer to self-sufficiency.

Science at work

A project in Uganda provides an excellent example. Ugandan scientist Robert Mwanga won the 2016 World Food Prize for his work in addressing Vitamin A deficiencies. Without Vitamin A, children are more likely to develop entirely preventable blindness. Working with people in Uganda’s poor, rural areas, Mwanga set about substituting, at scale, white sweet potato – which is low in Vitamin A – with a Vitamin A-rich alternative.

In Ethiopia, Gebisa Ejeta was awarded the 2009 World Food Prize for his work on improving the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa by increasing the production of sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and the parasitic Striga weed.

None of these projects would have been possible without governments supporting the research that lay behind them. But much more needs to be done. Research shows that investing an extra US $88 billion in agricultural research and development globally over the next 15 years could increase crop yields by 0.4% each year.

This could save 80 million people from hunger and protect five million children from malnourishment.

Africa is behind the curve on investing in research to improve agriculture outputs. Even though all 54 countries of the African Union have signed up to successive commitments – starting with the Maputo Declaration in 2003 – to increase their agricultural research budgets to at least 10% of their national budgets, few have actually done so.

At the last count only 13 had met or exceeded the 10% target in one or more years since 2003.

There’s an added problem. Africa relies on external capacity for most of its scientific research in agriculture. This has undermined its capacity to use science to deliver solutions for problems unique to Africa. This needs to change. Scientific research should be Africa-based, owned and led. Investment will be key – and so will solidarity among African scientists and governments.

Using science to benefit people

In 2014 African heads of state renewed their commitment to the agriculture sector when the signed the Malibu Declaration. The core of its agenda is to connect science to benefit society by:

  • Identifying broad areas of science that can be developed in partnership
  • Strengthening national science and technology institutions
  • Building human capacity
  • Diversifying funding sources to support science
  • Facilitating partnerships between African institutions at a national and continental level
  • Sharing information, technologies, information, facilities and staff for common challenges and opportunities, and
  • Creating a favourable policy environment for science

In addition to this, governments need to step up to the plate and increase their research budgets. Combined with the commitment to work together, the hope is that science will increasingly be used to create a more productive, efficient and competitive agriculture sector across the continent. This is critical to improve rural economies, where most people in Africa live.

Source: The Conversation

​How Africa Led the World in Science and Technology

Credit: 123RF

“When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn’t even discovered yet.”

Africa has the world’s oldest record of human technological achievement: the oldest stone tools in the world and evidence for tool production by our hominin ancestors have been found in eastern Africa and across Sub-Saharan Africa respectively.

Despite notable African developments in medicine, mathematics, metallurgy and technology in the past, today Africa lags far behind other regions of the world and gives too little or no attention to science and technology.

Let’s take a look at some historic technological achievements in Africa:

Mathematics

Ancient Egyptian mathematicians had a grasp of the principles underlying the Pythagorean theorem. They were able to estimate the area of a circle by subtracting one-ninth from its diameter and squaring the result.

Timbuktu in Mali was a major centre of the sciences. All of the mathematical learning of the Islamic world during the medieval period was available and advanced by Timbuktu scholars: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.

The binary numeral system which lead to the development of the digital computer was widely known through Africa before it was known throughout much of the world.

Astronomy

Egyptians were the first to develop a 365-day, 12-month calendar. It was a stellar calendar, created by observing the stars.

Even today, South Africa has cultivated a burgeoning astronomy community. It hosts the Southern African Large Telescope, the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere.

South Africa is currently building the Karoo Array Telescope as a pathfinder for the $20 billion Square Kilometre Array project.

Metallurgy

Iron use, in smelting and forging for tools, appears in West Africa by 1200 BCE, making it one of the first places for the birth of the Iron Age.

Besides being masters in iron, Africans were masters in brass and bronze. Ife in Nigeria, produced life like statues in brass, an artistic tradition beginning in the 13th century.

Benin also in Nigeria mastered bronze during the 16th century, produced portraiture and reliefs in the metal using the lost wax process. They also were a manufacturer of glass and glass beads.

Medicine

The knowledge of inoculating oneself against smallpox seems to have been known to the Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast. A slave named Onesimus explained the inoculation procedure to Cotton Mather during the 18th century; he reported to have gotten the knowledge from Africa.

In Djenné, Mali, the mosquito was identified to be the cause of malaria, and the removal of cataracts was a common surgical procedure. Based on Timbuktu manuscripts, the dangers of tobacco smoking were known already to African scholars.

Ancient Egyptian physicians were renowned for their healing skills, Herodotus remarked that there was a high degree of specialization among Egyptian physicians, with some treating only the head or the stomach, while others were eye-doctors and dentists.

Ancient Egyptian surgeons stitched wounds, set broken bones, and amputated diseased limbs. Around 800, the first psychiatric hospital in Egypt was built by physicians in Cairo.

Around 1100, the ventilator was invented in Egypt.In 1285, the largest hospital of the Middle Ages and pre-modern era was built in Cairo, Egypt, by Sultan Qalaun al-Mansur.

Tetracycline was being used by Nubians, based on bone remains between 350 AD and 550 AD. The antibiotic was in wide commercial use only in the mid-20th century.

The theory is earthen jars containing grain used for making Nubian beer contained the bacterium streptomycedes, which produced tetracycline. Although Nubians were not aware of tetracycline, they could have noticed people fared better by drinking beer.

Successful Caesarean section was performed by indigenous healers in Kahura, Uganda, as observed by R. W. Felkin in 1879. European travellers in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Uganda and Rwanda) during the 19th century observed Caesarean sections being performed on a regular basis.

The expectant mother was normally anesthetized with banana wine, and herbal mixtures were used to encourage healing. From the well-developed nature of the procedures employed, European observers concluded that they had been employed for some time.

A South African, Max Theiler, developed a vaccine against yellow fever in 1937. The first human-to-human heart transplant was performed by South African cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967.

During the 1960s, South African Aaron Klug developed crystallographic electron microscopy techniques, in which a sequence of two-dimensional images of crystals taken from different angles are combined to produce three-dimensional images of the target.

Today

The coming of the Europeans to Africa hindered further scientific and technological advancement in Africa.

The continent still has great scientific minds: Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian won the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in femtochemistry, methods that allow the description of change states in femtoseconds or very short seconds; but 40% of African-born scientists live outside Africa because African countries invest too little or nothing in science and technology Research and Development.

Sub-Saharan African countries spent on average a meagre 0.3% of their GDP on Science and Technology in 2007. North African countries spend a comparative 0.4% of GDP on research.

Notably outstripping other African countries, South Africa spends 0.87% of GDP on science and technology research. Although there are many technology parks in the world there is none in Africa.

There are over 500 Science and Technology centres in the world but only two in the whole of Africa. This is how far Africa has fallen in Science and Technology.

Today, Africa is shadow of herself. The continent can hardly even show the remains of her glorious era of scientific and technological advancement, net even science or technology museums to showcase whatever remained.

Biotechnology – Solving Nigeria’s Food Insecurity Challenges

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Photo credit: ecomercioagrario.com

Nigeria is still a developing country despite being blessed with abundant natural resources including a good climate which supports the growth of vegetation and rearing of animals. 

Nigerian agriculture is still characterized by low yield per hectare, low production technology, outdated production techniques, low level of innovation adoption etc. 

Nigeria has also witnessed progressive increase in importation of food in order to meet shortfalls in domestic food supply. As Nigeria continues to battle economic recession, which has hit the nation hard, the spirit of most citizens has dampened and they have lost hope in the government. Food security is the one thing Nigeria needs most now.

Food insecurity is still a major challenge in Nigeria. Both rural and urban poor people suffer from food insecurity and poor nutrition, caused in large measure by poverty and lack of nutritional balance in the diet they can afford. Food insecurity and malnutrition result in serious public health problems and loss of human potential. 

To combat these challenges, food production and purchasing power both need to increase in Nigeria. Since land and water are the most limiting resources for food production, there is a need to increase yields on the available land and biotechnology offers solution to this.

Biotechnology tools are presently used to tackle the problems of global food insecurity and agricultural biotechnology offers opportunities in developing countries like Nigeria. 

Many potential biotechnologies are available, these include: Traditional Plant Breeding, Tissue culture and micro propagation, Molecular breeding or Marker assisted selection, Genetically Modified crops, and recently Genome-editing for crops. 

These techniques can help address the problems of food insecurity by increasing per seed yield of some of our crops, multiplying the planting materials for farmers, increasing the area of land under cultivation, enhancing nutritional qualities of some of our crops and reducing dependence on agrochemicals.

Genetically Modified crops have been developed and rapidly disseminated since the early 1990s. GM crops for virus resistance, insect/pest resistance and delayed ripening are good examples of crop improvement strategies that are beneficial. 

Insect–resistant plant varieties using the ᵟendotoxin of Bacillus thuringensis have been produced for several plant species like tomato, tobacco, potato, cotton, maize sugarcane and rice, of these, maize, cotton is already commercialized. 

This technology can be adapted to our local crops to help increase productivity. This is important because adapting biotechnology to local or indigenous crops often have deep social or religious meaning to culture and simply replacing local crops with another crop to increase productivity may potentially destroy local cultural traditions. 

Local farmers in Nigeria are more likely to embrace a known crop with genetic modification than a foreign crop. Also, our local varieties of wheat can also be genetically modified or improved to reduce wheat importation and save foreign exchange. 

Nigeria is presently the highest importer of wheat and rice on the African continent. Tissue culture and micro-propagation can also be used to assist farmers obtain quality, disease free and readily available planting materials for crops like banana, plantain, pineapple, citrus, yam, cassava. Small scale farmers in rural communities can benefit from this. 

In addition, farmers and researchers/scientists in agricultural biotechnology can collaborate, so that research results from the laboratories can reach farmers. Research can also be targeted and tied to meet the specific needs of rural farmers; this will help increase food /agricultural productivity and economic empowerment.

In spite of the tremendous advances in biotechnology, public fear persists, especially the controversies on the acceptance of GM crops. These issues may prevent these innovations from having the impact they promise. 

Stakeholders of biotechnology in Nigeria must substantially increase its efforts to educate and engage the public to ensure that biotechnology truly lives up to its potential to solve our food insecurity challenges. Biotechnology for food security should be our priority.

The World’s First Malaria Vaccine to Be Rolled Out in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in 2018

Mosquito on human skin at sunset_0
Image credit: Shutterstock

Malaria is one of the world’s most deadly diseases even though it is highly preventable and treatable. Malaria causes approximately 881,000 deaths every year, with nine out of ten deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.

Effective control and treatment of malaria has been very challenging and efforts have been made to reduce the burden of malaria in an integrated approach that combines preventative measures, such as long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets (LLINs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS), with improved access to effective anti-malarial drugs.

However, malaria is a disease that stems from and causes poverty, and many at-risk populations live in extremely destitute, remote areas. Poor, rural families are the least likely to have access to these preventative measures that are fundamental to malaria control, and may live kilometres from the nearest healthcare facility. They are also less able to afford treatment once infection has occurred.

In addition to the human cost of malaria, the economic burden of the disease is vast. It is estimated that malaria costs African countries more than US$12 billion every year in direct losses, even though the disease could be controlled for a fraction of that sum. For Nigeria alone the direct loss to the economy is estimated at GBP530 million annually.

Up to 40% of African health budgets are spent on malaria each year, and on average, a malaria-stricken family loses a quarter of its income through loss of earnings and the cost of treating and preventing the disease. Malaria causes an average loss of 1.3% of economic growth per year in Africa.

There is a ray of hope in Africa as the world first malaria vaccine is to be rolled out in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in 2018. This injectable vaccine known as “RTS,S or Mosquirix” was developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and will be offered for babies and children in high risk areas as part of real life trials as reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In clinical trials it is proved only partially effective, and it needs to be given in a four-dose schedule, but it is the first-regulator-approved vaccine against the mosquito- borne disease. The WHO, who is in process of assessing whether to add the shot to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, has said it firsts wants to see the results of on-the ground testing in a pilot programme.

“Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine,” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s African regional director said in a statement as the three pilot countries were announced.

“Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”

Global efforts in the last 15 years cut the malaria toll by 62 percent between 2000 and 2015. The WHO pilot programme will assess whether the Mosquirix’s protective effect in children aged 5 to 17 months can be replicated in real life. It will also assess the feasibility of delivering the four doses needed and explore the vaccine’s potential role in reducing the number of children killed by the disease. 

The WHO said Malawi, Kenya and Ghana were chosen for the pilot due to several factors, including having high rates of malaria as well as good malaria programmes, wide use of bed-nets and well-functioning immunization programmes. 

Each of the three countries will decide on the districts and regions to be included in the pilots, the WHO said, with high malaria areas getting priority since these are where experts expect to see most benefit from the use of the vaccine.  The vaccine was developed by GSK in partnership with the non-profit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and part-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The WHO said in November it had secured full funding for the first phase of the RTS,S pilots, with 15 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and up to 27.5 million and 9.6 million respectively from the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and UNITAID for the first four years of the programme.

This significant development will help to address the continuing challenges presented by malaria in Africa in the years ahead and hopefully bring an end to this deadly disease.

Sources:

The Hindu, April 25, 2017. 

Kokwaro G. (2009) Ongoing challenges in the management of malaria. Malaria Journal, 8(Suppl 1):S2 doi:10.1186/1475-2875-8-S1-S2.

Why it is Dangerous for a Nursing Mother to Take Codeine or Tramadol

I know a young woman who was so addicted to codeine. Even when she was pregnant she was always high on codeine. She carried her pregnancy without experiencing any complication and her baby was delivered with ease, and then her abuse of codeine increased. I don’t know how much of the drug got to the baby while in the womb but after birth it was obvious that the baby was getting this drug through breast milk. The baby hardly cried and was always asleep. This nursing mother couldn’t stop or slow down her intake of codeine so the baby had to be taken away from her.

A lot of young people abuse codeine and tramadol to get a euphoric high, low, slow or strong feeling. This has become a societal problem because the abuse of these drugs like other opiates has many adverse effects more especially on babies and young children.

Codeine is a moderately strong opiate drug that is used in pain relief and for the suppression of coughs. Tramadol is an opioid pain medication used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain But strong or weak, these drugs are addictive with many symptoms of use in common with other opiates.

According to the New York Times, the United State Food and Drug Administration announced that any child younger than 12 should not take the opioid codeine and that those 18 and younger should not take tramadol, another painkiller, after certain types of surgery. In addition, nursing mothers should avoid both opioids because they pose dangers to breast-feeding babies.

The agency said, drug manufacturers will be required to update their package inserts to reflect the new contraindications, the strongest kind of warning, to alert doctors and parents that children can have trouble breathing or die after taking these drugs. Some over-the-counter cough or cold remedies contain codeine, so parents should read all labels to avoid accidentally giving it to their child.

Teenagers with certain conditions like severe lung disease, obesity or obstructive sleep apnea that can impair breathing may be at particular risk, the agency cautioned.

According to New York Times, these warnings were prompted by a recent review of rare but alarming reports of life-threatening side effects from the drugs. Between January 1969 and May 2015, the F.D.A. identified 24 deaths and 40 cases of serious breathing difficulties in children younger than 18 worldwide tied to drugs that contain codeine. Of the 24 deaths, 21 occurred in children under 12.

The use of tramadol was linked to three deaths and six cases of respiratory troubles in children under 18 between January 1969 and March 2016. All of the deaths occurred outside the United States and involved tramadol given in oral drops, a formulation not available in this country. One case in the United States involved a 6-year-old who became unresponsive after a third dose of tramadol and fully recovered after two doses of naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdose.

The problem with both codeine and tramadol is that some people are “ultrarapid metabolizers” whose livers metabolize the drugs much too quickly, causing dangerously high levels of opioids to build up, said Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, the deputy director for regulatory programs at the F.D.A.’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. No test can identify who might metabolize the drug too quickly, and that is why the agency issued blanket warnings for children by age.

Certain ethnic groups may be especially sensitive to the drugs. Up to 10 percent of whites, for instance, are fast metabolizers, compared with up to 4 percent of African-Americans and up to 2 percent of East Asians. And more than 10 percent of people of Puerto Rican and Middle Eastern descent may be fast metabolizers.

Any breast-feeding mother could also be an ultrarapid metabolizer and not know it, and unwittingly pass on high levels of opioids to her nursing baby through breast milk. Excessive sleepiness, limpness, breathing troubles or even death can result.

“Because we can’t easily determine which children or nursing mothers specifically are at greater risk of ultrarapid metabolism of codeine and tramadol, today we are requiring manufacturers of prescription codeine and tramadol products to make important labeling changes to protect those children who are at greater risk,” Dr. Throckmorton said.

Meet Ugandans Who Invented a Better Way to Diagnose Pneumonia

L-R Brian Turyabagye and Besufekad Shifferaw, both telecom engineering graduates who invented the Smart Jacket-mama’s Hope to diagnose Pnuemonia, April 5, 2017. (H. Althumani/VOA)

Three university engineering graduates in Uganda are taking on one of the leading killers of young children in Africa – pneumonia. They say the prototype of their invention, a “smart jacket” they have named Mama’s Hope, can diagnose the illness faster and more accurately than the current medical protocol.

Four-month-old Nakato Christine writhes on a hospital bed, breathing fast. On the other end of the bed is her twin sister, in the same condition. Nakato coughs as Senior Nurse Kyebatala Loy adjusts the nasal gastric tube.

“They have been put on oxygen because they have difficulty in breathing and the feeding is also difficult because of their fast breathing,” Kyebatala said.

Since January, 352 babies have been admitted with pneumonia to pediatric ward 16 at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala.

Pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of death for children under five years of age in Africa and south Asia, according to the World Health Organization. In 2015, pneumonia killed nearly a million children worldwide.

A key problem is the challenge involved in diagnosing the disease. The sooner the sick children start receiving antibiotics, the better their chance of survival. But health workers armed with stethoscopes and thermometers can miss the infection in its early stage. Dr. Flavia Mpanga of the U.N. Children’s Fund in Kampala says other methods, like the respiratory timer, can lead to misdiagnosis.

“If you see the respiratory timer, it’s got a ticking mechanism that confuses the community health workers. When they are taking the breathe rates, they confuse the ticking sound of the respiratory timer with the breathe rates and every child is almost diagnosed with pneumonia,” said Dr. Mpanga.

She says over-diagnosis means some children are taking antibiotics they don’t need, which is also a public health problem.

A trio of recent university engineering graduates in Uganda think they have an answer. They have been working with the Mulago School of Public Health to test a prototype of their invention, the smart jacket, called Mama’s Hope.

Two of the inventors, 26-year-old Beseufekad Shifferaw and 25-year-old Brian Turyabagye, gave VOA a demonstration.

“Ahh so…[zipper sound]… the jacket…is placed on the child…first, this goes around the child and then the falcon fastening is placed, and then the flaps are placed…[fade out]”

“This jacket will simply measure the vital signs of pneumonia. That is the breathing rate, the state of the lungs and the temperature,” said Turyabagye. “Now those signs are transmitted to our unit here, through which a health worker can read off the readings, which include cough, chest pains, nausea or difficulty in breathing. With those additional signs and symptoms, they are coupled with the result that has been measured by the jacket and it gives a more accurate diagnosis result.”

For now, it is just a prototype. But the inventors say their tests have shown that the smart jacket can diagnose pneumonia three times faster than traditional exams.

UNICEF has put the team in touch with its office in Copenhagen in charge of innovations to help them advance in the pre-trial stage. Dr. Mpanga sees potential.

“My only hope is that this jacket can reach a commercial value and be regulatory-body approved so that it can help the whole world,” said Dr. Mpanga.

Dr. Mpanga says taking the guess work out of pneumonia diagnosis could save countless lives in the developing world.

Source: VOA

Nigerian authority is saying the life of a Nigerian doesn’t matter as much as that of a European

The soft drinks giant said the claims were inaccurate and unsupported by science Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Judgement

Recently a court in Nigeria ruled that high levels of benzoic acid and additives in Coca-Cola’s soft drinks could pose a health risk to consumers when mixed with ascorbic acid, commonly known as vitamin C.

The ruling was the result of a nine-year-long court battle initiated by Nigerian businessman Fijabi Adebo. Mr Adebo’s drinks company attempted to export the drinks to the UK in 2007. However, the beverages were confiscated by UK customs and after being tested by UK health authorities they were deemed unsafe for human consumption and destroyed.

Mr Adebo then sued NBC, which had sold him the products. Lawyers of Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) argued that the products were not intended for export. but the defense was rejected by the Lagos High Court judge. “We shouldn’t have a product that is considered substandard in Europe.”

“Soft drinks manufactured by Nigeria Bottling Company ought to be fit for human consumption irrespective of colour or creed,” the judge said.

The judge also gave a fine equivalent to $6,350 (£5,115) to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for failing to ensure health standards

“It is manifest that NAFDAC has been grossly irresponsible in its regulatory duties to the consumers of Fanta and Sprite manufactured by Nigeria Bottling Company,” the judge said.

“NAFDAC has failed the citizens of this great nation by its certification as satisfactory for human consumption products […] which become poisonous in the presence of ascorbic acid,” he added.


The
excuse and deceit

Asked about drinks sold in the UK, Coca-Cola said: “Everywhere in the world, we review and evolve our recipes to meet the local market’s needs and tastes. All of the drinks that are sold in Great Britain are manufactured locally. Our priority is always to provide great tasting, affordable drinks with the same high level of quality regardless of where they are sold.”

“All our products are safe and strictly adhere to regulations in the countries where they are sold while complying with our company’s stringent global safety and quality standards,” a spokesperson for Coca-Cola told the Independent.

NBC said in a statement, “These two ingredients are also used in combination in some of these products within levels which may differ from one country to another as approved by the respective national food and drug regulators and in line with the range prescribed by CODEX,” the joint intergovernmental body responsible for harmonizing international food standards.

“The permissible ingredient levels set by countries for their food and beverage products are influenced by a number of factors such as climate, an example being the UK, a temperate region, requiring lower preservative levels unlike tropical countries.” the statement reads.


Benzene
in soft drinks

Benzene in soft drinks is of potential concern due to the carcinogenic nature of the benzene molecule. The benzene forms from decarboxylation of the preservative benzoic acid in the presence of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and metal ions (iron and copper) that act as catalysts, especially under heat and light.

Benzoic acid is often added to drinks as a preservative in the form of its salts sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, or calcium benzoate. Citric acid is not thought to induce significant benzene production in combination with benzoic acid, but some evidence suggests that in the presence of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and benzoic acid, citric acid may accelerate the production of benzene.


The
truth

Coca cola is a profit driven company. They are out there for profit and will readily take advantage of any regulatory flaw to maximise profit. Most poor and third world countries are in the tropics and have little or no representation in global bodies like CODEX, therefore have little or no influence on the regulations or policies that comes out of these organisations. Like in cases of international trade laws, the developed world and multinationals (mostly owed by the developed world) influence international regulations to their own advantage with the developing world always at the disadvantaged position.
Instead of worrying about a healthy way to preserve their soft drinks in tropical climate, the developed world and multinationals had made certain that the maximum amounts of benzoic acid that international regulations allow them to use is high enough to guarantee a long shelf life for their products and a maximum profit in tropical countries even if it is not healthy. The long term health or wellbeing of people living in this zone is not the priority of multinationals. Their priority is profit making and expansion.

The UK customs and UK health authorities after carrying out a test declared that Fanta and Sprite made in Nigeria by NBC are unsafe for human consumption but Nigerian Ministry of health and NAFDAC, the body in charge of food and drink regulation in Nigeria have come out to say it is safe for Nigerians to consumes these drinks. In other words, the Nigerian authority is saying the life of a Nigerian doesn’t matter as much as the life of a European.

Like the Lagos High Court judge said, Nigerians shouldn’t consume a product that is considered substandard in Europe. If Fanta and Sprite made in the UK is fit for human consumption, then Fanta and Sprite made in Nigeria ought to be fit for human consumption too.

The decision made by NBC and NAFDAC that Nigerians should consume a quantity of benzoic acid considered to be unhealthy for human consumption by the British government  because of their geographical locations is pathetic and lack common sense..

If food and beverage in the tropical countries requires higher preservative levels unlike in temperate countries, it still has to be healthy for human consumption. They didn’t consider the fact that Nigeria is a country of abundant heat and light which aids the conversion of benzoic acid in the presence of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to benzene.

The federal and state government have failed in protecting the citizens of Nigeria. They have decided to stand with NBC against the citizens, the court and the truth. Both NBC and NAFDAC are appealing against the ruling of the court. This is a shame! This is a shame!

This Nigerian American Dreams of Finding Cures for Infectious Diseases in Africa

Nigerian-born Chidiebere Akusobi has notched many impressive academic achievements in his short life.
The 25-year old studied ecology and evolutionary biology as an undergraduate at Yale, then earned his master’s in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge. Now he’s three years into a joint PhD/MD program researching cures for infectious diseases at Harvard and MIT.

Akusobi, who had moved from Nigeria to the impoverished New York City neighborhood of the South Bronx when he was two years old, was accepted into the rigorous New York City Prep for Prep program.

The program is an educational boot camp that selects roughly 225 promising students a year from the poorest New York City neighborhoods and grooms them for scholarships to attend the city’s top private schools.

For 14 months, students were assigned six hours of homework a day — on top of their normal workload — and they were expected to read one book a week.
“I remember July 4th, 2001, everyone was outside and there were fireworks. I was inside and my mom was keeping me awake as I read,” he said.
But Akusobi was determined to complete the program.
“I was taught that [education] was our shot of the American Dream,” he said.

When he was done, he had won a full academic scholarship to Horace Mann, one of the most prestigious prep schools in New York City.
Once Akusobi enrolled, finding his place in the school’s rarefied halls became his next big challenge.
Related: My American Dream – Offering legal help to other immigrants
He was only 12 and the stark contrast between he and the other mostly white, wealthy students was striking.

At the time, Akusobi’s father was working three jobs while also studying to become a nurse. His mother, who was also pursuing a nursing degree, worked as a home health aide.

Akusobi took full advantage of what Horace Mann had to offer. He became head of the dance team and even wrote and acted in a one act show.
“I just took advantage of all the opportunities that I could and did well enough that I got into Yale,” he said.
But his true passion was medicine.

Even though he had left Nigeria at a young age, Akusobi remained close to family members who still live in the country. “When I go to Nigeria there’s a sense of being home because that’s where my folks grew up,” he said.
But the attachments have come with heartache each time he receives news of a family member or friend who has passed away from an infectious disease, like malaria or HIV.

“It’s shocking the toll that infectious diseases have. I could work on fixing that. There’s real impact that has to be made,” he said.

And Akusobi is getting closer to that goal. Recently, he was granted one of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, which will pay up to $90,000 for his joint PhD/MD program at Harvard and MIT.

Besides his research at Harvard/MIT, Akusobi has advocated on a variety of issues, especially those dealing with racial equality and diversity in medicine.
He helped organize the WhiteCoat4BlackLives movement on Harvard Medical School’s campus to commemorate Eric Garner and Michael Brown, two black men whose deaths at the hands of the police spurred a national movement against police brutality and highlighted the issue of racism in America.

He has also taken a leadership role at the Student National Medical Association, which seeks to help get more minorities like Akusobi involved in the practice of medicine.

“From what I’ve seen there are so many students that have potential,” he said. “But there is systemic injustice and institutionalized racism that doesn’t allow people to get to where they need to be.”

While he believes in the American Dream, Akusobi says he realizes it isn’t a reality for many people, especially those who didn’t get the opportunities he did.
“The American Dream for a lot of people is a fantasy. I have experienced sub par schools with sub par teachers,” he said. 

“An elementary school student attending those schools and living in a neighborhood without quality food or after-school opportunities and surrounded by people in that situation. For a kid in that situation it’s easy to see how they might feel like the American Dream doesn’t exist.”

Source: CNN

​The general attitude towards science and the usage of the word “scientist” in Nigeria.

I remember in the days of my undergraduate industrial training in SheSTCo – a research institute in the capital of Nigeria, a professor rebuked a fellow trainee who referred to himself as a scientist during a seminar presentation. He said, “even with a master degree you are not even a scientist”.  
In Nigeria, if you call yourself a scientist you are scolded. You are quickly attacked with questions like “you call yourself a scientist what have you discovered?” but the irony is that you hardly get this question if you call yourself a chemist, biologist, physicist or mathematician. probably only because they think you are only telling them what you studied in school. 

As student and graduates of pure sciences, we ‘proudly’ call ourselves chemists, physicists, biologist or mathematicians depending on our disciplines because we have friends who call themselves economist, sociologist, accounts etc., but we barely call ourselves scientists. The word is too heavy for us.

In this society, the word, scientist can best be compared to words like astronauts, spaceship, or snow. Nigerians mostly use these words when referring to white people, advanced counties, or Hollywood movies and hardly when referring to the next Nigerian or Nigeria as a country because whatever these words represents are alien and transcendent to the majority of the Nigerian society.

When average Nigerians hear the word, scientist, the picture that comes to their mind is that of a white man in a white lab coat making big magical discoveries like time travel or a syrup that can make someone invisible. This is what Hollywood – the only teacher smart enough to tell them who a scientist is, taught them. With these picture in their head it becomes very difficult to see a Nigerian next door as a scientist.

Here, the most tangible science is seen as very abstract if not as magic hence the word, “oyibo magic”, meaning white people’s magic. Many Nigerians even beleive dicoveries and inventions by the advance world come from knowledge gotten from witchcraft. There is disconnect between the Nigerian culture and modern science.  One of the reason for this is that Nigerians are nurtured not to ask questions as children. They discourage curiosity making the saying, “curiosity killed the cat” very popular in the country. Secondly they hardly engage in endeavors without direct and immediate benefit. 

They can’t relate well with the pure sciences because they can’t see any direct and immediate benefit in engaging in them. It is common to hear even a university graduate asking questions like, “why would anyone in his/her right senses attend a university to study chemistry”, biology, physics or mathematics? To them if is not medicine, engineering, computer science,  pharmacy or nursing, it is a waste of resources and a shortcut to poverty. 

The Nigerian society relate well and better with science related profession like medicine, pharmacy, engineering, piloting etc. because these professions come with direct and immediate benefits. This mentality has resulted to a system whereby pure scientists are mostly trained to be teachers so as to train doctors, pharmacists, engineers, pilot etc. For this reason when an average Nigerian looks at those in the pure sciences all he or she sees is a secondary school teacher. 

Education in Nigeria has too little to do with curiosity, hunger for knowledge or the need to solve problem. It is all about statues, tittles and earning a living. Even the pure scientists in Nigeria are guilty of this. Most of them are in pure sciences today because they couldn’t get into medical or engineering school even after several try. After grumbling through school, may Nigerian graduates with science degrees find themselves in a dilemma. They learnt too little science in school and so cannot compete to become a lecturer or a researcher, and they don’t have the qualification for a non-science job. 

Before coming to conclusion let’s have a look from another angle. By international standard are most Nigerian lecturers or researchers qualified to be referred to as scientists? That is the question many nigerians are asking. Lecturers and researchers in Nigeria are known to carryout research mostly for the sake of publishing articles required for job promotion. They are not driven by hunger for knowledge or desire to solve a problem. Like the policy makers and bureaucrats, the pay so little attention to science development. Some would argue that the science practiced in the country is obsolete and insignificant. There is hardly any discovery from universities or research centers.  

If Science is discovery, then where there is hardly any discovery there is hardly any science and where there is hardly any science there is hardly any scientist. 

​The struggle of Nigeria’s foremost anti-sickle cell disease medication

A name synonymous with sickle cell anaemia in Nigeria

Sickle-cell anaemia is particularly common in western Africa and people of western African ancestry. Sickle-cell anaemia is also common in people from Mediterranean countries, the Middle East, and India, or people whose ancestors came from these regions. it is a genetic disorder which in particular shows its clinical manifestations in the black race and Nigeria been the most populous black nation on the word has the highest incidence of this disorder. Before the first known case of Sickle-cell anaemia in the advance world in 1910, Nigerian were already battling with this disease. If fact archaeological research in Nigeria has unearthed 700 years old human bones showing evidence of sickle cell infarcts. So you are in order if you say Sickle-cell anaemia is a Nigerian problem.
After man years of this disease in Nigeria traditional healers and medicine men were able to produce medicine that minimize painful episodes which are the most common complication of Sickle-cell anaemia. One of the medicine was later developed by a team of 8 Nigerian scientists and researchers at the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Abuja, Nigeria and Nigeria’s foremost anti-sickle cell disease medication – NIPRISAN™, was born. A patent for the formulation was filed on the 21st of January 1997 with the Office of the Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks, United States of America. The patent was approved in September 1998. 

NIPRISAN, as claimed in the patent is a herbal mixture extract, formulated from parts of four different indigenous plants (Piper guineenses seeds, Pterocarpus osun stem, Eugenia caryophylum fruit and Sorghum bicolor leaves) and an inorganic material mixed at specific ratios which has been shown to be safe and effective in the management of sickle cell disease during a phase 1 and subsequent Phase 2 clinical trials.

The patent document lists eight individuals as the inventors and the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development as the assignee.  NIPRD had earlier licensed the product to Xechem PLC under the chairmanship of Dr. Ramesh Pandey and it was then sold under the tradename, NICOSAN™ in United States of America and in Nigeria. The product successfully got an orphan drug designation from both USFDA and EUFDA under the management of Xechem Plc.

In 2007, despite growing local and international demands for the Nigerian product, the parent company in America went bankrupt and Xechem Pharma Nigeria Ltd gradually was brought to a halt by crippling debts. With these developments and the failure of Xechem Pharma Nigeria Ltd to continue with drug production, the drug became scarce despite the huge local and international demand. NIPRD decided to implement the clause in the NIPRD-Xechem Agreement which stipulates that should Xechem change ownership or be insolvent, NIPRD reserves the right to withdraw the license.

The decision was challenged in a U.S. court and, after a grueling and expensive court case, NIPRD won the court case and withdrew the license from Xechem. Efforts to license the commercialisation to another firm has not been successful as all previous attempts have been hindered by court cases initiated by Xechem creditors and shareholders.

Efforts are underway by some actors to launch a generic brand once the patent expires as the tradename – Nicosan™ is held by Dr. Ramesh Pandey and not Xechem Plc. There are multiple opinions on the expiry date of the Niprisan patent ranging from:

  • 1st September, 2015 (17 years from approval)
  • 25th January, 2016 (20 years from first filing in Nigeria)
  • 21st January 2017 (20 years from USA first filing)

The rule is that patent expiry date is the latter of 17 years from USA approval date or 20 years from the date of filing in USA or Internationally provided it qualifies under the 35 U.S.C 120, 121 or 365 conditions. In the event of patent expiry, the court cases would lose their potency and any player with sufficient technical and marketing capacity can produce and market the product under a new or existing brand.