NIMR intensifies fight against drug-resistant TB, as research indicates surge

Sodiq Ojuroungbe 

The Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Professor Babatunde Salako, says the institute has focused more attention on the fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis as its latest research reveals alarming trends in TB drug resistance.

He said the discovery necessitates taking urgent national measures to enhance treatment efficacy and control.

Speaking at a press briefing to mark the end of his eight-year tenure as DG of the institute, the professor said it was discovered that traditional treatments are increasingly ineffective against these resistant strains, thus, posing a significant challenge to TB control efforts.

Salako stressed the critical need for innovative approaches, stating, “The escalating rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis demand immediate action. We must strengthen diagnostic capabilities, expand treatment options, and prioritise research into new therapies to combat this growing public health threat.”

The NIMR DG said under his leadership, the institute served as a pivotal national reference centre for tuberculosis, conducting essential research and diagnostic services.

He added that the institute’s efforts include genetic studies to understand the underlying mechanisms of drug resistance, informing strategies for more effective TB management and control.

Beyond tuberculosis, Salako explained that NIMR has played a crucial role in addressing other infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, contributing significantly to Nigeria’s public health landscape.

He highlighted the institute’s significant impact on HIV/AIDS research, including pioneering the identification of the first HIV case in Nigeria.

According to him, NIMR has since conducted extensive research, managed an HIV clinic programme serving over 25,000 patients, and played a crucial role in evaluating antiretroviral drug efficacy.

On malaria, the DG said NIMR’s research has been instrumental in evaluating insecticide-treated nets and identifying new malaria vectors like Anopheles stephensi, previously unknown in West Africa.

He emphasised the importance of this finding, stating, “The identification of Anopheles stephensi underscores the evolving nature of malaria transmission dynamics in Nigeria. This vector’s resistance to current insecticides necessitates a national reevaluation of our malaria control strategies.”

In addition to identifying Anopheles stephensi, Salako said the institute continues to study mosquito resistance to existing insecticides and evaluate the efficacy of current antimalarial treatments.

He stated that these efforts were crucial for informing policy decisions aimed at reducing malaria transmission and advancing towards elimination goals.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Salako said NIMR emerged as a key player in Nigeria’s response.

He added that the institute conducted key research, including genomic sequencing of COVID-19 variants, developed diagnostic test kits, and pioneered innovative testing methods such as do-it-yourself tests and home testing services.

He said this approach enabled NIMR to test approximately 65,000 Nigerians, contributing significantly to pandemic control efforts.

In terms of capacity building, the DG said NIMR trained over 1,600 healthcare professionals, including students and laboratory scientists, in critical areas such as genomics and clinical sciences.

He added, “We also embarked on the renovation of laboratories and buildings within the institution. We completed some abandoned projects, some were abandoned for over 12 years. Especially this, our office was abandoned for 12 years.

“We completed the NIMR house. The main laboratory was also renovated, including residential areas. We did roads, and networks within the campus. We created special laboratories that support research.

“We created two tissue culture laboratories, one for malaria and one for virus. The one for the virus was used to grow the COVID-19 virus when we were having some research-related need for it which helped us while we were developing our test kits. The one for malaria is being used to culture malaria and to do drug testing on sensitivity testing on malaria. We also created the toxicology laboratory, courtesy of federal government funding for COVID-19.

“So we have two machines that can assess heavy metals. And of course, drug abuse can also be measured within the blood using this. These are areas of interest for researchers.”

Speaking further, the DG stated, “We created a sequencing genomics laboratory where we sequenced the index case of COVID. NIMR was the first to sequence the index case of COVID-19 when it came to Nigeria. Eventually, we worked with the Lagos State Government, the University of Lagos, Ministry of Health of Lagos to put up a comprehensive report on that case.

“We noted that we needed to be able to produce our primers, especially when we were designing diagnostic kits. Because we needed to sequence the circulating variants of the virus in Nigeria and put that knowledge in context to be able to produce those diagnostic kits.

“We met with MTN Foundation which donated to us what we call an oligosynthesizer. And then offered some remote training and we started producing primers in NIMA since then. This provides an opportunity for live scientists to do their research without much ado. I mean before they would have to design the primer, send it abroad, get it produced before it’s sent back to them. But now in NIMR we can do all of that for them and we’ve been doing all of that for them.

“We got many of those laboratories accredited. There’s what we call ISO, International Standard Accreditation. We have two of our laboratories, the Centre for TB Research and then the Centre for Human Virology and Genomics and both of them are reference laboratories, national reference laboratories.

“And our CHVG was also appointed as a mega laboratory for HIV-resistant testing. What appeared to excite us then was our pre-qualification by the WHO of our ability to test kits for other countries to use. And at that time when WHO listed us, we were one of the eight countries in the world that was able to do that.”



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