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Unizik: Experts task bioscientists on pandemic prevention, control

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By Gabriel Chy Alonta

Experts drawn across various disciplines have tasked bioscientists to up their games in providing solutions to the possible prevention and control of pandemic outbreaks, while faulting the slow response in stemming the tide of COVID-19.

The experts spoke at a 2-day International Conference of Faculty of Biosciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, which took place on Tuesday, January 10, 2023 at ASUU-NAU Secretariat. The conference was themed, “Post COVID-19 Resilience: Role of Biosciences”.

In a keynote speech titled, “Food security enhancement: The entrepreneurial perspective”, Prof. Alex Ikeme, said COVID-19 gripped the world with a shock and overwhelmed the health system of most nations causing global social disruption by limiting global social relations.

Cross section of members of the high table

According to Prof. Ikeme of the Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, bioscientists and medical professionals played such role as the discovery that the virus had the propensity to kill more than 50 million people worldwide, which, he said, led to the research for a vaccine in the mold of the astrazeneca and how to build resilience against the spread and advent of another similar epidemic. He also highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary research in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.

Stating the roles of the food we eat and the impact of biotechnology in food processing, the keynote speaker said, ”Our nutritional status, health, physical and mental faculties depend on the food we eat and how we eat it. It’s also important to state that biotechnology in the food processing sector targets the selection and improvement of microorganisms with the objectives of improving process control, yields, efficiency, as well as the quality, safety and consistency of bio processed products”.

Ikeme said the fight against the ravaging effects of COVID-19 was a collective responsibility of all and sundry in winning the war and saving the ecosystem for the future adding, “to build a better future, the emphasis must now shift from defensive measures and short-term goals to a sustainable inclusive growth agenda”.

Mr. Jasper Chukwurah and colleagues during the pre-conference registration

While declaring the conference open, Unizik Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Charles Esimone, noted that conferences, symposia and workshops were part of the rituals of an academic institution, and extolled the leadership of Prof. Stan Udedi as the Dean of Faculty of Biosciences, who, he said, has left no stone unturned in keying into the tradition.

Esimone, represented by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Prof. Frederick Odibo, described the theme of the conference as apt, remarking that COVID-19 pandemic has raised its ugly head with recent reports of increase in the number of cases in the country. He then said that Bioscientists should be saddled with the responsibility of searching for solutions and providing answers to mitigate the effect of COVID-19 and Post COVID-19.

Cross section of participants at the conference

“Nigeria and indeed the sub-saharan Africa are being plagued by diseases such as Ebola and Lassa Fever which are virulent but the Bioscientists here at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka are well-equipped and endowed to provide solutions to the challenges of the time”, the helmsman said.

In a remark, Udedi, who is a professor of biochemistry, said the conference was targeted at discussing re-strategic recovery from the pandemic with emphasis on survival strategies for COVID-19 and roles the faculty have played and will continue to play towards curbing the menace. The Dean also disclosed that the conference would strategize and repackage the role of teaching, research and community service via showcasing what the faculty can offer in the face of the global challenge.

Prof. Stan Udedi (left), during the conference

Prof. Udedi then encouraged participants at the conference to open up discussions that would reposition the Faculty and the institution at large in line with the ‘Project 200’ vision of the Prof. Esimone’s led administration.

Earlier, th chairman of the occasion and CEO, Nicky Okoye Organization, Dr. Nicky Okoye stated that the conference has provided a platform for the review of research findings on COVID-19 pandemic and ways to promote efforts towards the adoption of best practices in handling its aftermath in Nigeria and West Africa.

Okoye informed that progress has been made around the world in understanding the science of COVID-19 virus and the development of effective health tools to improve the global response to the pandemic, and regretted that factors such as lack of support from developed nations and poverty have limited the impact of these developments in West and Central Africa.

Prof. Chris Anyamene of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, who also doubled as chairman of the occasion, had in a remark, described the conference theme as of monumental importance and called on bioscientists to rise to the occasion, and seize the opportunity of the conference to contribute to the world knowledge on pandemic prevention and control.

Prof. Chris Anyamene

During the technical session, the Founder, Centre for Psychic Healing Administration (CPHA), Dr. Flora Ilonzo, who spoke on the title, “Let your food be your medicine”, said for centuries food has remained a turning point in our lives, adding that “what we eat often defines us – who we are, where we come from, and to a large extent, our status in society”. She added that food was not meant to just satisfy the body but to help them to heal itself.

Prof. Uche Nwogwogwu, Dean Faculty of Social Sciences also talked on “Economic recovery and sustainable development in post COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria”. Other resource persons were Tenya Zeczycki and Holly Ellis, Professors at Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University, USA.

The technical session was anchored by Prof. Francis Chukwuemeka Ezeonu, former INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Imo State.

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