Dr. Dougbeh Chris Nyan, a Liberian medical doctor, infectious disease research scientist and inventor, is inarguably well positioned to provide practical guidance and insight for navigating a pandemic. He is the inventor of a rapid test that can detect and simultaneously differentiate at least three to seven infections, including Malaria, Yellow Fever, the Coronaviruses and Ebola, within 10 to 40 minutes. In 2014, Nyan headed the Diaspora Liberian Emergency Response Task Force on the Ebola Crisis, during which time he and his team testified before the United States Congress, which significantly informed the U.S. response to the health emergency in Liberia at the time. In the case fo the novel Coronavirus pandemic, which the world is still trying to understand, Dr. Nyan has been gracious enough to speak with various Liberian media outlets, including the Daily Observer, sharing knowledge and providing understanding on a wide range of issues concerning the pandemic. In this exclusive interview, Dr. Nyan addresses some of the scientific and political developments relative to the pandemic in Liberia and other parts of Africa.
Now that the Liberian government has received samples of the COVID Organic Tea from Madagascar, which it says it has submitted to due diligence, can you give us an idea of what those who are vetting the tea should be looking for? What are the parameters of such due diligence, in your professional opinion?
It is not clear to me as to what the Liberian government intends to gain by bringing the Madagascan COVID Organic Tea product into the country. Liberia does not have established Clinical Research Organizations. Thus, I doubt if Liberia has the technical capability, skilled expertise, and scientific equipment to conduct an analysis of a formulation of this nature. Furthermore, I believe that the government has erred by bringing the product into the country without first requesting the scientific study or trial data, that is, if any clinical studies were conducted by our Madagascan colleagues. Are the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia conducting a study for the Madagascan government?
During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, we brought from the United States ZMAPP, a scientifically established experimental drug comprising three monoclonal antibodies [Antibodies are the “army people” in our bodies that I always talk about that fight diseases], to treat selected Ebola-infected patients. We knew that ZMAPP was experimental for Ebola treatment, but grounded in strong established science, unlike the Madagascan COVID Organic Tea claims to “cure” COVID-19 with, but provides no scientific basis. We have to be careful and if I were advising the President, I would caution against anyone taking this COVID Organic Tea.
As someone who has developed a rapid testing kit of the highest standard, what do you make of the respective developments made by Madagascar (COVID Organic Tea) and Senegal (US$1 test kits and US$60 ventilators)? Have you been able to assess or has WHO or some other authoritative body given an assessment of the Senegalese test kits and ventilators? (Considering that the US CDC’s test kits came out faulty, how accurate are those developed by the Senegalese?)
We applaud our African colleagues for their innovations as we strive towards Africa’s self-reliance and promoting African ingenuity. However, these innovations must undergo the same scientific scrutiny other innovations like mine invention underwent to validate the claims each innovation is making in terms of detection and cure. To date, I am not aware of the Senegalese COVID-19 test kits and its ventilators passing any regulatory scrutiny in any country; neither has their scientific methods undergoing any independent peer review process nor has the “COVID Organic Tea” from Madagascar undergone any scrutiny.
My understanding is that this prototype of the Senegalese coronavirus test kit will be validated by specialists in the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the University of London, and at research centers in China and Brazil. I believe that we have many bright scientists a few strong research institutions in Africa that have the expertise to collectively validate devices. We should not allow others to always validate us and our work. Instead, we Africans should set up our own validation entities on the continent that will first scrutinized our innovations according to internationally established and acceptable standards, and also scrutinize innovations from other continents.
Is it fair to assume that we can expect to see more home-grown innovations and solutions on the African continent, and what are some of the main challenges that an be expected (or unexpected)?
Oh yes, it is more than fair! Africa is not short of talents. There are numerous innovations in science, medicine, technology, agriculture, and other areas that are sprouting and blooming all over the African continent that have yet to be supported into full-blown products. That is where African governments need to engage innovators into Private-Public-Partnership as well as encourage the private sector to invest in home-grown innovations on the continent.
In Liberia, members of the medical community complain that they have not been involved in the fight against the Coronavirus disease. Many medical doctors are saying that whatever updates they glean about the pandemic in Liberia comes more from media reports, and hardly from the health authorities. Drawing on your years of experience as a medical doctor, an infectious disease researcher and a social activist, how do you navigate points of contention between science and politics [and big money], especially in the middle of a pandemic? At what point do you put your foot down and say, ‘this way or no way’? Can you give an example?
The government’s approach to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is pointless and chaotic in the sense that it is excluding medical professionals and people with the public health expertise. What is very scary is government’s decision to appoint people with no knowledge in public health, medicine, and science to lead the COVID-19 fight. It undermines government’s owns efforts and brews a high degree of doubts and mistrust in the population. It also generates distrust of the government in the international community. Also, the administrative bureaucrats appointed by government cannot make any medical decision or public health projections about this pandemic; this is dangerous and puts the lives of the Liberian people and foreign residents at risk. It is only public health professionals, medical doctors, and scientists that are capable of making informed decision in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic; bureaucrats cannot as they are not medical professional.
Per the previous question, could you kindly weigh in on the President’s recent decision to relax restrictions on religious gatherings, even though the number of confirmed cases continues to rise?
The relaxing of the Stay-in-Place measures on the religious gatherings is premature and will cause the further spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The virus spreads from person-to-person with people being in close contact. Churches and Mosques are large gatherings of people in close proximity with each other. This will cause the virus to easily spread by the silent asymptomatic carriers of the virus. In the US, for example, some States that are reopening are witnessing a rise in the cases of infected persons. Looking at Liberia, the so-called 25% capacity that the government is allowing is in the Churches and Mosques is arbitrary and miscalculated, hence may be misinterpreted by the religious leaders. The government needs to reconsider its decision and focus on acquiring more testing kits to conduct mass testing, contact tracing, isolation and treatment of infected persons. Also, the government needs to find food and other necessities for the people to encourage them to stay-in-place, instead prematurely lifting the lockdown regulations.