The Vice Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Eyitope Ogunbodede, is a professor of Preventive and Community Dentistry. He tells FEMI MAKINDE in this interview what the university is doing to tackle COVID-19 and what should be done to transform the nation’s ailing health sector among other issues
Is there hope of finding cure to coronavirus anytime soon?
There is what is called herd immunity anytime there is epidemic or pandemic. After sometime, the disease will no longer be deadly as it is now because people will sort of develop immunity to it. The first attack of every new pandemic is always very vicious but after sometime, the disease will become less severe. That is one thing that we can hope for in this type of pandemic. Some other epidemics and pandemics that ravaged humanity became less vicious after sometime and that is why malaria fever is no longer as deadly as it used to be in this part of the world. If malaria suddenly appears in Europe, it may wipe them off but we have grown some kind of resistance to it here. That is why some people will have malaria and will not consider it to be a very serious issue. Coronavirus is ravaging the whole world now and everybody is finding a cure for it and just like other diseases, a cure would be found.
The easiest one is vaccine. When one is vaccinated, antibodies are developed and that is the easiest way to tackle it but it takes time. You are to test such vaccines in animals and then you proceed to test them on some humans before you can use it for the general population. This will take nothing less than six months. Vaccines are not what one will produce today and will start using the same day.
Is the OAU also engaged in research to produce a vaccine for this virus?
We are not working in that direction now. But what we have been doing in OAU from time is that we have been looking at our natural products to see which of them is good against quite a number of diseases. That has been on in our Faculty of Pharmacy and we have quite a number of plants and natural products that are actually effective against bacteria and against viruses. What our people are looking at in our Faculty of Pharmacy is to look at whether some of these products are even effective against coronavirus.
Are they working towards that now at the faculty?
The Faculty of Pharmacy is doing that. Everybody at the university now is looking at what can be done to minimize the effects of coronavirus. But it is not everything you rush to give the media before the result is out. Some people are boasting that they have produced hand sanitisers but we have done that long time ago and we don’t need to make any noise about that. That’s not the kind of achievement we want to advertise. We want a product that we can say, this is what we developed at OAU and everybody will be proud of it.
What do you think is hindering Nigerian universities from partnering, for example, drug manufacturing companies to develop drugs that everybody will be proud of?
Universities are supposed to come up with research and then get patents for whatever they come up with and the industry can take it up. It is not the business of an academic to start marketing products. Academics are supposed to be in the laboratories carrying out research. The business aspect will be taken over by either the business arm of the university or by the industry. Last year in OAU, we had about seven patents.
Are these patents got for drugs?
They are for drugs but one is for machine that can be used to process a lot of things. Five of the patents are drug related. A former acting Vice Chancellor of OAU, Prof Anthony Elujoba, had one for a drug. We are looking at developing and marketing these as a university. The university is actually working and we are making progress.
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