Health Minister commissions Human Virology Centre, HBV Kit at NIMR

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Health Minister commissions Human Virology Centre and HBV Kit at NIMR
Minister of State for Health and Social Welfare, Dr Tunji Alausa, cutting the tape to officially commission the Centre for Human Virology and Genomics, in the comoany of the NIMR DG, Prof. Babatunde Salako (right) and NIMR Deputy DG, Prof. Olaoluwa Pheabian Akinwale.

In a significant step towards enhancing access to healthcare services, the Minister of State for Health and Social Welfare, Dr Tunji Alausa, has inaugurated the Centre for Human Virology and Genomics, along with homegrown Hepatitis B PCR kits, at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR). This milestone event took place during his visit to the institution on Thursday, where he also unveiled other key facilities established under the leadership of the Director General, Prof. Babatunde Lawal Salako. These facilities include the National Research Committee Secretariat and a Genotype Testing Kit, among others.

Dr Alausa praised the visionary leadership of Prof. Salako and highlighted the vital role such healthcare facilities and equipment play in providing quality healthcare to the populace. He emphasised that the newly launched virology centre and other tools would significantly improve access to affordable diagnostic services for Nigerians.

The Minister urged NIMR to forge a strategic partnership with the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as the virology centre begins operations. He also challenged NIMR researchers to commercialise their locally developed test kits, assuring them of expedited approval from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) upon completing the necessary documentation.

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“It gives me great pleasure to commission the Centre for Human Virology and Genomics. This facility is crucial for improving public health and making healthcare more affordable for our people. It demonstrates that Nigerians can excel in any field, and NIMR has positioned Nigeria on the global map of clinical research. Innovative trials can be conducted here, even with limited resources,” Dr Alausa stated.

He further commended the researchers for their ingenuity in developing the Hepatitis B PCR kits, which he noted have a specificity comparable to international standards. He emphasised the importance of transforming research knowledge into commercial products, stressing that commercialising these kits would make them accessible to Nigerians, many of whom are affected by Hepatitis B.

 

“If we do not commercialide this kit, Nigerians will not benefit from this affordable alternative. With a Hepatitis B infection prevalence of over 13.3 per cent, millions stand to gain from this innovation. NIMR needs a robust plan to bring this product to market. If you are facing bottlenecks with NAFDAC approval, please send me a memo, and I will ensure the process is expedited,” he added.

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Addressing questions from journalists about the Federal Government Executive Order on pharmaceuticals and import duties, Dr Alausa indicated that the documentation is completed and awaits the president's signature, which he expects to happen within few weeks. He expressed optimism that this approval would alleviate the burdens faced by the public.

As Prof. Salako prepares to leave office next month, Alausa lauded his eight years of dedicated service at NIMR and assured continuity through a talented team of researchers at the institute. He urged them to intensify their efforts in key areas such as vaccine research, testing, and disease surveillance, which have the potential to attract international funding and drive innovative development. He also encouraged the integration of Artificial Intelligence in their research.

Dr Alausa underscored the government's commitment to funding research, emphasising that it should not rely solely on international funders. He urged NIMR to build the capacities of young researchers through a robust postdoctoral fellowship programme.

“We are committed to establishing a strong postdoctoral fellowship program to foster research investment. This will unleash the potential of our researchers and create job and educational opportunities for young Nigerians. Government funding is essential, and we are working on a memo to the Federal Executive Council to secure this support,” he disclosed.
Prof. Salako, in his briefing, highlighted the economic importance of the virology centre,

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noting its potential as a core research facility given the threat of future pandemics and the growing significance of human genetics and genomics in disease outcomes. He mentioned that the centre is accredited by the South African National Accreditation System to the International Organisation for Standards (ISO) 15189 and houses two World Health Organisation (WHO) collaborating facilities for IVD prequalification and HIV drug testing. These facilities enhance the country's reputation within the WHO, showcasing the government's commitment to improving national and global health.

The NIMR DG explained that the development of the HBV kit aimed to address the high costs and availability issues of existing diagnostic tools, ensuring that affordable and reliable kits are always accessible.

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