Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, two US citizens who contracted the deadly Ebola virus have shown tremendous improvements after being administered an experimental drug known as ZMapp. The serum according to CNN (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/04/health/experimental-ebola-serum/index.html) was developed by a biotech firm MAPP Biopharmaceutical Inc. and had never been tried before in a human being but had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys.
Some weeks ago, former INEC chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu, reiterated claims about a research that was carried out since 1999 which remained inconclusive but had shown in-vitro that our own readily available, cheap and natural fruit, Bitter kola stopped the Ebola virus. Unfortunately, fifteen years after this initial discovery of what the readily available bitter kola has done to Ebola in the laboratory, Ebola hit West Africa’s Guinea Republic and has been on the rage, spreading to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, killing more than 800 people, without any cure in sight for Africans. The Bitter Kola research as we speak, is still inconclusive.
Unfortunately, rather than say Bitter kola could possibly hold the cure being sought as we renew efforts to conclude the research, Africans, especially Nigerians already scoff at the “inconclusive” research, drawing their own conclusions already. People are already being erroneously told bitter kola is the cure and by simply chewing it, you can prevent the deadly Ebola Virus Disease. This claim isn’t yet scientifically proven, but the learned, according to this report in Vanguard have also concluded too early that “there is no scientific evidence of Garcinia kola, popularly known as bitter kola curing or preventing Ebola virus disease.” (http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/08/bitter-kola-cure-ebola-health-minister/). The research in 1999 according to S. Borenstein (http://articles.philly.com/1999-08-04/news/25485403_1_ebola-virus-miracle-drug-kola) however claimed that “A bitter fruit traditionally used as a daily health tonic in West Africa ‘stopped’ the Ebola virus in test tubes in initial laboratory experiments”
The article (http://articles.philly.com/1999-08-04/news/25485403_1_ebola-virus-miracle-drug-kola) posted in 1999 affirms that, “one of the top infectious-disease labs in the United States tested the fruit, and said that it passed the crucial and difficult first hurdle”. John Higgins, a virus expert who headed the effort at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md., to find antiviral drugs to fight exotic diseases said the following about Bitter kola “It certainly is a promising compound, So far, it’s made it through all the gates that it has been sent through.”. He further was quoted to have said that “A handful of other drugs have made it this far in fighting Ebola, but they are not from natural plants and may eventually flunk the toxic test”. Flavonoids are thought to have anti-infective qualities and bitter kola is believed to contain bi-flavonoids which are two flavonoids fused together. Bitter Kola is cheaper, readily available and according to Prof. Maurice Iwu himself, “doesn’t contain any toxins, even in mega doses”. It was said in 1999, that many more experiments would be performed in the next few months on mice, primates and then humans, those few months have extended to 15 years, without any form of conclusion.
According to CNN, (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/04/health/experimental-ebola-serum/index.html) the serum that was administered to the American citizens in Liberia, ZMapp “has not been approved for human use and has not even gone through the clinical trial process, which is standard to prove the safety and efficacy of a medication… but in the case of Brantly and Writebol, they received the medication within 7 – 10 days of their exposure to the Ebola virus.” So what happened to the Bitter Kola research that started fifteen years ago? Why has so much effort gone into ZMapp the secret serum, and not bitter kola, a readily available natural fruit?
As Vox rightly reports, (http://www.vox.com/2014/8/4/5963751/the-real-cause-of-the-ebola-outbreak-its-not-what-you-think) “Most all of the money for research and development in health comes from the private sector. They naturally have a singular focus — making money — and they do that by selling patent-protected products to many people who can and are willing to pay very high monopoly prices. Not by developing medicines and vaccines for the world’s poorest people, like those suffering with Ebola.” So it is understandable that after all the qualities Bitter kola potentially has, ZMapp is now at the centre stage. CNN has already reported that “On July 30, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, an arm of the military responsible for any chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive threats, allotted additional funding to MAPP Biopharmaceutical due to “promising results.”” (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/04/health/experimental-ebola-serum/index.html). Zmapp is getting more funding, even though there are about 25 labs in seven countries working on these antibody treatments for Ebola, one of them is Canadian Pharmaceutical company, Tekmira working on a treatment called TKM-Ebola
While the world, especially West Africa awaits a viable solution to the Ebola scourge, Nigeria needs to wake up and move decisively and conclusively, to tell us if truly Bitter kola which is natural, readily available, cheap, without toxins, less dosage-critical and has passed some of these tests can be scientifically proven, to hold the cure or at least preventive qualities that will curb the spread of Ebola. We must not forget that Ebola, as it is, without cure can be used as a weapon in bioterrorism attacks and we can’t afford to fold our arms and “hope” as we have usually been known to do in the past. Serious work must begin now.
The effort of the Ministry of Health, under the Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu and the joint effort of Treatment Research Group for Ebola Disease co-chaired by the heads of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, is a step in the right direction, however belated. We would have been in a better position, if it had been done these past 15 years. Co-chair, Dr. Karniyus Gamaniel, Director-General of National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development Council was quoted to have said “We think we are capable. We have the competent virology lab and virology staff to do this,”.
In conclusion, let us note that, this isn’t the time to just “think” we are capable, this is the time to “show” we are, while Nigerians await the group’s promised briefing on its progress in time. Let us not forget the financial motivation that drives researches, especially in the health sector. Whoever comes up first with a viable, scientifically proven solution will have the world scuttling down to purchase, thereby driving its economy.
Adagba Whenu Tobi