Prince Philip Njemanze is a research professor of Neuroscience, and Academician of the International Academy of Astronautics, the UNESCO body for space research. He is the chairman of the International Institute of Advanced Research and Training, Chidicon Medical Centre, Owerri, Imo State.
Offering insights into the management of coronavirus pandemic across the world, he lamented that the lockdown in Nigeria is posing a greater health hazard than helping to curb the spread of COVID-19. According to him, there are smarter scientific ways for containment of the coronavirus as an airborne disease.
How would you rate the response to coronavirus pandemic across different countries of the world today?
It is truly shocking to see the chaotic response to the pandemic around the world. The response to the coronavirus pandemic has been catastrophic. The basic principles of public health have been swept away by so-called novel approaches with little or no effect. The approach is not evidence-based but rather ad hoc political proclamations devoid of scientific approaches. In science, we use the physical constraints of the pathogen to limit its spread. The disease occurred as a major pandemic across latitudes 30 degrees North to 50 degrees North from China in the East, across Europe to New York in the West. Outside this latitude belt, all cases have been exported, including in countries immediately south of China. This climatic belt has periods of low humidity. In Wuhan, China where the disease first broke, the humidity at the time was only 20-30%. This would mean that spread of the disease is facilitated by low humidity when the wind is very dry lacking moisture. The coronavirus could be sustained for eight hours in aerosols in dry air. It, therefore, means that high humidity could break the transmission of the virus in aerosol, as the aerosols in the humid air would not allow any viral transmission as has been demonstrated in the laboratory. It, therefore, means that we could control the viral transmission by monitoring the humidity of the air and using it as a guide to make recommendations. High absolute or relative humidity levels about 70% would not allow any transmission. The infections that occurred in Wuhan China, took place at a period of very low humidity and the spread even though occurred further through human-to-human contacts. It, therefore, follows that the control of the disease could be much better by regulating ambient or room humidity levels in public places like banks, churches, markets, etc. While the human-to-human contacts could be prevented with the use of face masks, using a scientific approach could have yielded a much more effective control and prevented the devastating effects of the lockdown of cities and countries, which by itself is killing more people than the coronavirus would ever achieve. The air condition is a dehumidifier, as it removes moisture, but you need the moisture now to prevent airborne disease, and that is what the humidifier does. Once you have a humidity that is 60 percent and above, there will be no transmission of any virus even if there is somebody there coughs out viruses. It is scientifically proven by works published in the Journal the American Academy of Sciences (PNAS 106(9): 3243-3248. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0806852106 and PLoS ONE 8(2): e57485. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057485). So, raising ambient humidity is the precaution you can take in all public places. If you want to raise humidity in your house and you don’t have money to buy a humidifier you just boil hot water put it on the table and it will be steaming, as the water evaporates the humidity in the room will rise. The indigenous knowledge has thought us to boil hot water, put it on the table take a towel to cover the sick to breathe it for 10 to 15 minutes. This method is scientifically the best method to handle any viral respiratory disease because it will raise the humidity very high, stop every transmission, make the hairy cells in the lungs to start working better, and clear the mucus with bacteria and viruses. Home humidifiers could be used in homes and hospitals to reduce transmission of the virus.
If the lockdown across the states in Nigeria and elsewhere is not necessary, how can we drive the high death rates down?
The lockdown is having a devastating economic effect and is doing more harm than good in Nigeria and across the world. You isolate the sick, not quarantining the healthy; that is the basic principle of medicine. The lockdown is totally uncalled for and it will inflict more harm and kill more people than coronavirus will ever achieve. More importantly, it is ineffective even by all accounts. The so-called falls in the rate of infections and slowed pace of deaths in New York, Spain, and Italy is unrelated to the effectiveness of the lockdown. It is related to the fact that, there are a finite number of those at risk with pre-existing health conditions. When this core number have all died, the remaining people who have suffered the infection develop immunity to the virus. Reports from the United States have doctors raising the alarm of falsification of the number of deaths from coronavirus. In the United States, some doctors say that they are told to report deaths from pre-existing heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, severe diabetes and other life-threatening conditions that may have tested positive to coronavirus as coronavirus deaths, even when they know that these patients died because of their pre-existing conditions. The cause of death is either stroke, heart failure, etc, but not coronavirus. However, the multi-billionaires and their mainstream media empires are interested in inflating the coronavirus pandemic. Their health insurance companies are following up with financial incentives, by reimbursing the doctors/hospitals $13,000 for coronavirus deaths without the use of ventilators, and $43,000 with the use of ventilators. In some states in the United States, they are giving doctors/hospitals $300,000 dollars for each COVID-19 patient! You can now see why everybody wants ventilators. Most patients who go on the ventilator die! The more COVID-19 patients die the hospitals earn more money. What a paradox!
How would you rate Nigerian government’s performance thus far?
I would give them a B or good. This is because they started early to safeguard the borders and designate treatment centers. Since we have imported cases, the external borders must be controlled and all incomers who test positive isolated and treated. The non-use of public hospitals for treatment of COVID patients was a prudent choice. However, the lack of the capacity to perform tests to identify the patients is a major drawback. Therefore, here they need public-private partnerships. Since the sick will always go to the hospital, it is prudent to give the tests to private laboratories to do. They need the training courses for all laboratories and hospitals registered in each state. The government could provide the test kits at no cost to the laboratories and hospitals and tell them to conduct the tests for as low as N200 per test. This would meet the required 100,000 tests per day. We can identify the patients and isolate them for treatment. That is the correct approach, not quarantining the healthy and locking down the economic activities that have caused more harm than good. The lockdown should be lifted.
You were a pioneer researcher at NASA Ames in Moffet Field California, USA. You applied satellite remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) technologies for risk analysis in the control of diarrheal diseases published in American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 1999. Do you see the role of GIS technologies for COVID-19 control? What will be your recommendations to the government of Nigeria?
We must use the best science to fight the coronavirus. We are already applying GIS technologies for coronavirus. There is an updated global map on the spread of the coronavirus, that shows clearly the linkages with weather within the latitudes 30 degrees North and 50 degrees North where at some time in December 2019 humidity was very low. Since the COVID-19 is airborne, the requirement for face masks would be a very useful preventive tool in public. Washing of hands, face and exposed body parts was part of our ancient traditions here before entering public places. This practice is only kept by Muslims now, and should be made a common practice for all. However, in most cities in Nigeria, there are no public places to wash. All public places, streets, and major transport bus stations must have wash toilets and washing bathrooms. There must be wash areas with soap and sanitizers where people can wash their hands and use the toilets. This should be private-sector driven. They could create areas along all filling stations, public eateries, schools, etc. There could be small washing toilets standing on the street corners across cities, small towns and even villages. The money donated for COVID-19 should be used to achieve the provision of water and sanitation needs to reduce open defecation and drastically reduce diarrheal disease prevalence leading to a drastic fall in infant and child mortality rates. Some social distancing could still be maintained just enough to allow transactions of normal daily business between people. All public buildings must have humidifiers to raise the ambient (room) humidity levels so that they can cut off the transmission of the virus and other respiratory diseases. Banks and large money collection businesses must store cash in ultraviolet rays cash safes to sterilize cash issued for transactions. Small ultraviolet cash counters and safes could be made available for small businesses.
There have been many criticisms of President Trump on the promotion of the potential treatment with hydroxychloroquine-azithromycin, what are the facts?
The scientific evidence provided by a French study of 1061 COVID-19 patients placed on Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin combination showed that about 976 patients or about 92% recovered fully within six days. About 4% had persistent virus past 10 days. Only 4% had a poor outcome, that is being in the hospital for more than 10 days, and 10 patients went to the ICU, and 5 patients died. These cure success rates are really significant and should be explored by all physicians are early as possible in the absence of better alternatives. Nigeria is presently conducting clinical trials, and we hope for our own home-grown recommendations as the outcome becomes public. I do not subscribe to the view that we should wait for a coronavirus vaccine. The vaccines are not harmless by themselves. For example, severe injury can result after vaccination, for example, most of the acute flaccid paralysis we have in this country is polio vaccine-related. The polio vaccine has been around for more than half a century and we still have issues with it. We are now talking of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is untried and there is no experience with all its side effects. We cannot rush into the use of these vaccines even when they become available. I personally would not recommend a vaccine solution because in the short time, it will become available, the safety profile cannot be known by anybody.
There has been so much rumour about the link of coronavirus with 5G technology, what is the science behind this, if any?
I am not a fan of conspiracy theories. I look at the science researched by other scientists in the field. We already have a significant amount of published works on the expected side effects of 5G on the human body. For example, we have for long known that exposure of Ebstein-Barr virus (EBV) genome, to a 50 Hz electromagnetic wave (EMF) resulted in an increased number of cells expressing the virus early antigens. This finding published in J. Environ Pathol. Toxicol Oncol 1997, 16(2-3) 205-7, showed that there is evidence that DNA can be modulated by an electromagnetic wave such as with cellular phone technology. The new 5G unlike 3G and 4G that preceded it, has very high frequencies in the range of 6-100 GHz. Eighty percent of the scientific studies done in humans and animals show responses to exposure to 5G, which affected the organisms adversely. There was no consistent relationship between power density, exposure duration, or frequency, and exposure effects in the studies published according to a review published in (Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Sep; 16(18): 3406). There is a need for further studies before they can be deployed for safe use. The proposed link between coronavirus and 5G is not farfetched. It is theoretically possible that one carrying an inactive form of a virus given as a corona vaccine could through the effects of EMF have that virus get activated either directly or through the weakening of the immune system. Since we do not have all the facts about the biological effects of 5G and its interaction with a future coronavirus vaccine, other vaccines and the immune system, it may be a good idea to shelf the deployment of 5G for now, in my opinion. Let us see what the outcome of use would be elsewhere and learn from their mistakes. Stupid people learn from their own mistakes, smart people learn from the mistakes of others.
Do you think that our health system can withstand the coronavirus pandemic?
Yes, I think so. The medical system here in Nigeria, especially the private sector is very robust and well adapted with a lot of ingenuity. Even though the creative approaches of our doctors, nurses, pharmacists, traditionalists have not to be recognized and systematized, the system still answers to the enormous challenges. We have seen a total breakdown of health systems in developed countries around the world due to this coronavirus pandemic. The medical system in Nigeria – the doctors and nurses of Nigeria are one of the best in the world and I mean what I am saying because I’m somebody who has traveled to many countries and I know a lot of health systems. We have a very good medical workforce but the poor governance system in Nigeria will not make any good workforce or any structure to function properly. A normal health system works with three arms: Preventive Arm (Nigerian Centers for Disease Control NCDC), Research Arm (Nigeria National Institutes of Health – NNIH) and Therapeutic Arm (Network of public and private hospitals). The problem here is that both the preventive and research arms controlled by the government have not been working properly, largely without impact. The present pandemic highlighted the need for the work of NCDC, and to this day they do not even have the basic laboratories required for their work. We should provide funds which may be about N100 billion to structure the NCDC properly with scientists, laboratories, sanitary inspectors headed by Surgeon General at federal, state and council levels. The NNIH should be structured with about N100 billion as a scientific granting agency to provide grants for research to public and private institutions. We must tackle the issue of governance with greater seriousness. What has failed in Nigeria is the governance not the health system per se. For example, maternal mortality is high not because of poor hospitals or maternities but usually, there is no access road with transport to take the woman in labor on time to the hospital. The child mortality is high not because there are no hospitals and drugs to treat them, but because the child drinks polluted water infected with bacteria and parasites, in the absence of potable water. We should use this opportunity to provide potable treated pipe-borne water in all major cities in Nigeria. All villages should at least have several solar-powered boreholes in the community of up to 200 people. I developed the template-based GIS technologies for the provision of potable water used around the world. It has been implemented in many countries in Asia and Latin America but Nigeria lacks behind due to bad governance. We must do better.