Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is a disease that I have personally been affected by. I lost a very close friend to the disease and like many Nigerians, I know people who either suffer from the disease, or are discouraged from marrying the one they love because either is a genetic carrier of the the disease. Given these realities, I was ecstatic to learn of a remedy to SCD that was discovered in Nigeria but upon further research, I have more questions than answers.
AN INDIGENOUS REMEDY FOR SICKLE CELL
A family in Nigeria knew of an indigenous remedy for sickle cell anemia - a disease suffered by at least 12 million people, with 70% of them residing in Africa. The family shared their recipe with Nigeria's National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) which in turn developed a drug called Niprisan. Niprisan was officially launched by former President Obasanjo in 1996. Amid controversy, NIPRD sold the rights to develop Niprisan to the Nigerian subsidiary of an American company - Xechem International, in 2003, with an understanding that the drug, marketed as Nicosan, would be manufactured in Nigeria.
A CORRUPTION SCANDAL
Unfortunately, Xechem Nigeria became mired in corruption scandals. Its state-owned partner, Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO), which was created by the Nigerian government to "help Xechem Nigeria produce and commercialize Nicosan", was also accused of fraud to the tune of N400 million in public funds. Xechem Nigeria's parent company filed for bankruptcy in 2008. In addition, company shareholders have leveled the following complaints,
"...that the company ... failed for 12 months to retrieve from customs in Lagos US$4.3 million in new equipment purchased for Xechem's manufacturing facility in Abuja and US$2 million in equipment removed from Xechem's former facility in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
[that] [t]here had been "no movement on Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals in 16 months; ... the termination of planned clinical trials for Xechem's sole marketable product, Nicosan; and numerous allegations against the managing director of Xechem Nigeria".MY THOUGHTS
It remains amazing to me that in this day and age, we are yet to fully conquer SCD. So, when I learned that there was a cure that came from Nigeria and from indigenous herbs in the form of Nicosan, I excitedly wanted to learn everything I could about it and share that information with anyone willing to listen. To then discover via research that after years over 10 years, Nicosan is still not reaching enough of the people who need it, was disappointing. To also learn that the companies charged with producing the drug - Xechem Nigeria and SHESTCO - were facing charges by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was even more disheartening. Assuming that Nicosan works, it has the potential to transform the lives of millions of sufferers not only in Nigeria, but indeed around the world. Why is there a holdup in production, and information about this medicine?
For a country like Nigeria which is obviously concerned with transforming its international image, Nicosan presents an excellent opportunity to present the country as a nation of scientific achievement and one that can change the lives of millions of SCD sufferers the world over. Why this golden opportunity has not been exploited is beyond me, but it is not too late. Sadly, the fact that the drug is riddled in controversy and that no clear information is readily available about the government's plans for the drug, other than that it will now temporarily manufacture the drug, only reinforces the many negative stereotypes Nigeria faces. This is unfortunate, and I hope that in the weeks to come, Nigerians and others hoping for more news, will learn more about this drug.
Considering that President Yar'Adua is concerned with the "need to present an optimistic outlook, renew the national spirit, and reinvigorate [citizen's] faith in Nigeria," Nicosan could be the wonder drug that families are desperately looking for and that the Nigerian psyche needs. The successful manufacture and use of this drug would instill national pride and optimism. It would elevate the level of trust and respect for the Federal Government that is currently lacking. Additionally, a thorough investigation into the missing N400 million that Xechem Nigeria and SHESTCO are accused of stealing would remind Nigerians that nobody is above the law and no person or organization will avoid justice, if necessary.
Nicosan presents an opportunity for Nigeria to do something incredible - to mass manufacture a local remedy to a disease that takes lives. Such an accomplishment would be positive and would be one of many ways to transform Nigeria's negative international image while coincidentally instilling pride in Nigerians. But even more importantly, it would save lives.
I can only hope that Nicosan will prove to be the wonder drug that sickle cell sufferers and Nigeria needs.
Please visit Sicklecell.Blogspot.com. The blog owner, Vixen W. has been using Nicosan and in May 2009, will be crisis free for up to a year. I am rooting for her.
Thanks to blogger Akin, and fashion designer Folake of WEWE Clothing, for taking from their busy schedules to not just 'listen' (via Twitter) to me as I thought through this issue, but provide me with constructive leads and suggestions.
UPDATE (4/20/09): Ruth Akiboye and Paul Barton have created a Sickle Cell Guide available for download here. It is a short, but comprehensive, guide for parents of sickle cell sufferers.
Related Articles of Interest:
- Nigeria's Re-branding Effort
- Using Nigerians to Re-Brand Nigeria
- Re-Branding Nigeria: Success Is The Key
- The Nigerian Psyche
- Persistent Psychological Paralysis
- The Significance of Persistent Psychological Paralysis