Dr Anoka Njan is an associate professor of Toxicology and secretary-General of the Nigeria Society for Toxicological Sciences (NSTS). He spoke to journalists on the outcome of the maiden NSTS conference. NKECHI ISAAC was there for LEADERSHIP.
What is your honest assessment of the maiden NSTS Conference?
In my opinion, it was a great meeting, for which we are grateful to God. However, as the Chairman of the Local Organising Committee and Secretary General of the Nigeria Society for Toxicological Sciences (NSTS), I would prefer that the conference be assessed by others for a more objective view.
So what is the take-away from the conference?
The conference has reinforced our conviction at NSTS that a lot still needs to be done in sensitizing Nigerians on the subject of poisoning. The conference has also succeeded in informing people on the existence of a Society, with expertise to proffer lasting solutions to these issues in collaboration with government.
Perhaps you may wish to tell us the benefits of the scientific conference to larger society…
Benefits of the conference were enormous, to our members it was a time to reunite and learn from each other. It is very important for us to continue to educate and train folks who appreciate the challenges confronting us as a nation today, to evaluate and limit prevalent risks in Nigeria to prevent harm. This is the essence of the science or indeed the “art” of Toxicology. To the academic community, it was an opportunity for us to demonstrate pure and advance science in the field of toxicology. For the local and global community the conference showcased the toxicological challenges being experienced in Nigeria and the proposed ways to handle these challenges with minimal or no consequences to public health and environment.
What does these portend for the economy?
The economy of any progressive nation is based on sound policies and sound policies are made based on good scientific data from rigorous and thorough research. An important outcome of toxicology research is the assessment and management of a defined risk to health and the environment, a key component of economic viability of any nation. The conference created an understanding of how important toxicological processes are used to establishing chemical and other toxic exposures safety and/or defining exposure guidelines to protect human and environmental health. These guidelines should be applied to making good policies for a robust economy.
How does the NSTS intend to impact on the common man?
The major objective of the NSTS is to use the influence of science to predict what, and how chemicals may cause harm and then share that information for use in the protection of public health. We have developed an app called “Repotox” that can be used by anybody and from anywhere in the country to report exposure to any sort of toxicant including industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, snake bite, stings, herbal products etc. at no cost. The app is easy to use and can be downloaded from the society’s website. The information will be processed by our members while solutions on how to remedy and prevent future occurrence will be made available to the sender and the public at large for their protection and that of the environment.
Let me add too that the NSTS is a non-for-profit organization, open to corporate organizations with interest in joining forces with us in keeping Nigeria safe from exposure to toxicants using data from sound science. Corporate membership allows companies or organizations to gain exposure to industry leaders, access to standards and technological resources, while also providing for them opportunity to showcase innovations in the area of safety during our events
We understand one of the sessions harped on Tobacco Harm Reduction. Can you give us an insight?
The session on “Tobacco Harm Reduction” was well deliberated.
What is your take on the dangers of tobacco smoking?
First, as a scientist in the health sector, I want to make it clear tobacco is dangerous, based on abounding scientific evidence. It is better not to smoke at all or quit smoking if you are already a smoker. But NSTS as body of knowledge is interested in the science, the data that claim that harm in tobacco can be reduced, especially for current smokers who choose to continue smoking and the environment they affect would have to be interrogated scientifically. NSTS is concerned with evidence based approaches in reduction of injury caused by exposure to toxicants in our environment, with a view to making this information available for the protection of public health.
How is the NSTS ensuring global collaboration?
Every genuine toxicology society all over the globe must be registered with IUTOX, because it is the umbrella society for all toxicology institutions in the world, hence the name “International Union of Toxicology”. Nigeria (NSTS) is one of four members of this international body in Africa including South Africa, Egypt and Cameroon. We have collaborations with IUTOX and her member societies all over the world in the areas of human and scientific information sharing. Since every country/region has its own peculiar toxicological challenges, information is shared to member societies globally for exchange of ideas on ways to proffer solutions to these challenges. These collaborations is part of what makes NSTS strong.
So what should we expect from the NSTS in the short to midterm?
Nigerians should expect answers to all poisoning concerns or questions of public interest from NSTS. For example, the simple issues like consumption of contaminated fish or food stuff or exposure to contaminants, we should be able to take sample, analyze it, and inform the public on proffered solutions. In simple terms, NSTS should be the National sentinel for toxins and poison awareness to the public.
One of the problems we have is that government treats poisoning as a disease. For example, they wait until there are poisoning episodes like the Zamfara and Niger lead poisoning incidence before any form of action to mitigate it. Most times, government adopts a fire brigade approach by rushing to the site for a couple of months to manage the outbreak, without implementing corrective measures to address the root cause in order to forestall a reoccurrence.
What we need as a country are poison control centres that will be in charge of poisoning outbreaks before many lives are lost or even before they occur. The center should normally have a Toxicovigilant department. This department should operate a toxicovegilance system, based on risk assessment. I have presented this in many government organized fora. It was presented and approved at the federal council of health meeting in Sokoto, but till date nothing has been done. But I know this country will be great again.
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