Two major medical groups in Nigeria have refuted claims by former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Maurice Iwu, that he has a cure for the Ebola virus ravaging parts of West Africa.
A day after President Goodluck Jonathan included Mr. Iwu, a former professor of pharmacognosy, on a panel to lead Nigeria’s fight against the deadly and incurable disease, the groups of medical professionals debunked the former INEC chairman’s claim that kola nut or bitter kola could provide antidotes for the Ebola virus.
Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, was the first to dismiss Mr. Iwu’s claim, even though he included him on the committee to seek a cure for Ebola.
Today, more medical bodies and individuals are echoing the minister by distancing themselves from Mr. Iwu’s dubious claims. The Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) is one of the groups questioning the former electoral umpire’s claims.
In an interview with SaharaReporters, NIMR’s director-general, Innocent Ujah, dismissed Mr. Iwu’s claim as scientifically unfounded. Mr. Ujah, who is a professor, suggested that delusive assertions by self-acclaimed medical professors should be taken with a grain of salt, adding that no scientific evidence exists to show any connection between kola nuts and the repression or cure of the Ebola virus.
In the 1990s, Mr. Iwu had received more than $2 million in research funds from US agencies after he claimed that he and a team of researchers had made a breakthrough in finding a cure for the contagious and deadly Ebola virus. Despite the huge sums of research grants that came his way, Mr. Iwu and his team never produced any drugs for clinical trial before he became the chairman of INEC, ultimately overseeing elections that local and international observes described as one of the worst in Nigeria’s history. He ran INEC from June 2005 to April 2010 when President Goodluck Jonathan removed him and replaced him with Ahmed Jega.
In dismissing the claims about kola nuts as a cure for Ebola, Mr. Ujah cautioned the public against relying on spurious and unfounded medical claims.
“It is even baffling that some people who call themselves medical professionals will put themselves in this situation,” said the professor. He added: “They should know better. Any claim that has not been tested or scientifically proven should not be fed to the public.”
In a similar vein, the Lagos State chairman of Nigerian Medical Association, Tope Ojo, also dismissed the claim, condemning the use of newspapers or the popular media to disseminate claims about medical cures. Mr. Ojo, who is a medical doctor, said, “We in the medical profession have a way of communicating medical recommendations and that is not the way.” He added, “Currently, there is no proof for that claim and someone should not just jump at the public and claim he or she has a cure.
“If bitter kola is a cure the Ebola virus, we would have recommended that everyone should go and start chewing it everywhere, even as a prophylaxis, so that we won't even bother about cure,” said the chairman of the Lagos chapter of the NMA.
Ujah and Ojo advised Nigerians to adopt simple hygienic habits, such as washing their hands regularly with soap, to minimize the odds of contracting the virus.
Nigerian authorities have confirmed that a Nigerian doctor in Lagos had contracted the virus after treated a Liberian victim, Patrick Sawyer, who died of the virus recently. The late Sawyer was the first reported case of the virus in Nigeria.