Exclusive Interview: Africa has research capacity to develop drugs for coronavirus – Ngoulla

Mariane J. Ngoulla

DR. Mariane J. Ngoulla is an international public health development consultant with vast experience and illustrious career, which has seen her providing leadership and quality service to international organisations such as the World Health Organisation, the European Union, and the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.

As an industrial pharmacist, she works with regional and international stakeholders to develop local and regional production of drugs and promote traditional and alternative medicines in Africa. Ngoulla has interfaced between public and private sector organizations and development/donor agencies, including the World Bank and the African Development Bank to mobilise funds for pro-poor projects and programmes for the benefit of millions of Africa’s struggling and under-served populations.

As a special advisor to the president of the ECOWAS Commission, Ngoulla, has played a pivotal role in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and the regional Malaria Elimination Campaign, rallying financial and technical supports from countries and development organisations within and outside the ECOWAS region.

In collaboration with regional and international partners, she led from the front in coordinating interventions that resulted in the internationally acclaimed successful combat of the Ebola virus pandemic that hit the ECOWAS region between 2014 and 2015.

A philanthropist, Dr. Ngoulla continues to work with stakeholders, including financial institutions to promote the empowerment of women and girls, and for the provision of credit facilities to the needy to improve their lives.  She is the founder and president of the International NGO, Toguna Peace Development Foundation, which promotes peace, love, dialogue, reconciliation, forgiveness, and other virtues in families and the wider society.

As the coronavirus, COVID-19 ravages the world, Realnews interviewed Dr. Ngoulla via a questionnaire on how national governments in Africa are handling the fight on the coronavirus pandemic and what can be done to check the spread in the continent. She also speaks on lessons learnt in curbing the Ebola outbreak; how they can be applied to check the current pandemic and what should be done with African Traditional medicine and the coronavirus cure developed by Madagascar. Excerpts


Realnews: As an industrial pharmacist, who has worked with ECOWAS, what role have you played in helping to find solutions or cure to some of the diseases ravaging the region?

Ngoulla: I worked with ECOWAS as special health adviser to the President and was directly involved in developing the Regional HIV/AIDS Strategy with a component on strengthening regional manufacturing capacity as well as initiating the ECOWAS Malaria Elimination Campaign that is centered on vector control with the setting up of factories for the production of bio-larvicides targeted at killing mosquitoes’ larvae that will translate in breaking of the transmission chain.

And the last Ebola crisis had ECOWAS at the centre for a coordinated regional response as well as intervention in Nigeria’s successful response. The Ebola crisis was a lifetime experience and I give God the glory. I hope we will be able to take advantage of the lessons learned to address to current COVID-19 pandemic.

Realnews: What lessons were learnt from the Ebola control that can be used in checking the current pandemic?

Ngoulla: A major lesson is people’s education. Information on individual and collective responsibility, widespread communication, involving religious, traditional and community leaders, civil society organization, CSO, and community-based organization, CBO, has been a key factor, as robust mass education translates into empowering people. It gives to the people the sense of being an actor not just on the waiting, assisted, and receiving side, but rather take responsibility in the fight for a collective victory. For instance, hand washing, collective and personal hygiene, which helped to stem Ebola spread are not only critical to defeating Covid-19 but many diseases of the poor plaguing Africa. Practically we all saw hand washing during Ebola crisis happening everywhere with local creativity using for example bamboo with a hole and a nail serving as tape to ensure that in the rural communities they too can wash hands under running water.

Realnews: How will you assess Africa’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging the whole world?

Ngoulla: Africa’s response so far is good as we are not experiencing a great number of deaths even-though one death is an irreparable loss for that family. In any situation, there is room for improvement and an intensified well co-ordinated widespread awareness campaign will help achieve behavior change and reassure the population that will help curb community transmission.

Realnews: As a former staff of ECOWAS, who played a key role in formulating health policies with regards to providing alternative medicine of African origin to curing disease in the region, is the regional body responding appropriately to the current coronavirus pandemic with a view to find the cure in Africa.

Ngoulla: As part of developing the health system and improving the health of the population, the use of African Traditional Medicine has been recognized, encouraged, developed, and established. The current crisis reminds us that every part of the world is looking for a solution and it should not be different for Africa. Today in the region, we have research capacity in many countries that need to be harnessed to address our needs, and this Covid-19 pandemic calls for it. While vaccines are being developed, research on the different products presented in the Region needs to be encouraged.

Realnews: As someone familiar with the activities of the World Health Organisation, WHO, do you think the world body, WHO is doing enough to support scientists in different African countries find drugs or cure for coronavirus using local herbs?

Ngoulla: The World Health Organisation African Region has been actively involved in the promotion of herbal medicinal products. I happen to be one time in charge of that programme. And since 2000, there have been numerous initiatives such as the Regional Committee on Traditional Medicine, African Decades on Traditional Medicine as well as Development of tools for evaluation of traditional medicinal products. The mechanism for evaluating the claims made do exist and need to be activated.

Realnews: Why is WHO emphasising on vaccine for the cure of the pandemic instead of drugs?

Ngoulla: It is because of the widespread of the coronavirus and the risk of having it seasonally, a vaccine will prevent it.  Meanwhile, as we are still expecting the vaccine, available treatment must be evaluated and made available as time is of essence.

Realnews: What is making WHO lay emphasis on a vaccine for coronavirus, when no vaccine or cure has been found for malaria which has been killing more people in Africa?

Ngoulla: Coronavirus today is affecting the whole world.

Malaria has been eradicated in most parts of the world, but not in Africa. The irony of life is that the name malaria comes from a one-time malaria-infested country Italy. But today malaria is mostly an African problem and we need to think of an African approach to it that will take us to the elimination of malaria in Africa. It has happened in other parts of the world and we can and must achieve it in Africa, provided that we see it for what it really is – a development challenge.

Realnews: How do you see the position of WHO on the drug Madagascar is using to treat coronavirus?

Ngoulla: They have to activate available mechanisms for the evaluation of the claims on the different drugs developed in Africa. We have the responsibility to give treatment to people and it’s imperative to assess and acknowledge of the efficacy of a drug that is being used. As earlier mentioned, we have research capacity in the Region and I was privileged to work with the founder of the Madagascar Research Institute of International Standard, Professor Albert Rakoto Ratsimamanga.

Realnews: What should ECOWAS/African Union be doing in the case of Madagascar cure for coronavirus?

Ngoulla: They should establish close partnership with Madagascar to have more information so as to make the product available to the population as time is of essence in this difficult situation the Region is facing. Some African countries have already requested the product from Madagascar. African Union should expedite the ongoing discussion with Madagascar so as to make technical information available to experts in the Region. This should apply to other products developed and used in the Region.

Realnews: Some African pharmacists such as Professor Maurice Iwu and Some Monk at the Ewu Monastery also claimed to have found a cure for coronavirus disease. As someone in the field of pharmacy, what do you make of such claims?  Also, Shouldn’t governments in ECOWAS and national governments support their people to use African herbs to find cure for the coronavirus instead of looking up to the Western medicine with emphases on vaccine?

Ngoulla: As earlier said the world including Africa is looking for cure to this Coronavirus pandemic. And I’m very happy that this time around prominent experts in the pharmaceutical industry and specialists on herbal medicinal products have come up with some products. This is what we need and it will surely encourage the many experts, researchers, universities to come up with more options.

This is an opportunity for national governments, regional institutions like ECOWAS, ECCAS, SADC and at continental level the African Union to harness the huge potential existing in Africa. I pray after two decades of Traditional Medicine as declared by the African Union, we will at last be able to take to another level the potential that has kept Africa going as we all know that at least 80 percent of our population depend on Traditional Medicine .

Realnews: What do you think of the conspiracy theories about the use of coronavirus vaccine when it is found to be used to control the world by Globalists?

Ngoulla: I think Africa has numerous challenges to face and need all efforts to assess them and concentrate on improving the quality of life for the population on the continent. By so doing, Africa will no more be the weak link always almost breaking, but will be a controlling force in the Global world.

Realnews:  Please can you provide any other additional information you think we should have on the cure of the COVID-19 pandemic and control of other diseases in the continent such as Malaria and Ebola?

Ngoulla: For the cure of COVID -19, other African countries are making way in providing local solution like Senegal with some Tests locally developed, Burkina Faso and Cameroon with some products that are used for treating patients. More will surely come. But it is key to have a robust awareness campaign towards behaviour change as prevention still remains better than cure. That will equally serve to prevent resurgence of a major Ebola crisis. A multi-sectoral communication campaign that will produce behaviour change will lead among others to a cleaner environment, reducing “mosquitoes farms” first step of a campaign towards malaria elimination centred on vector control using biolarvicides eco-friendly products for the reduction of larvae. As we said earlier, malaria is a major developmental challenge for Africa.

– May 11, 2020 @ 14:35 GMT |