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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  July 4, 2021 4:30pm-5:01pm BST

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hello this is bbc news. the headlines... a cabinet minister indicates that the use of face coverings will become a personal choice when lockdown restrictions in england are eased. more than 20 million people watched england's brilliant night in rome as they thrashed ukraine and moved
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on to the semi—finals of the euros. it was a saturday night to celebrate for fans — football now is coming home — with england facing denmark at wembley on wednesday night. a military transport plane has crashed in the philippines, killing at least 45 people. ministers extend the period in which legal action can be taken against housing developers in light of the cladding crisis. greece, italy and israel send planes to cyprus to tackle a fatal wildfire on its south coast. now on bbc news, it's hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk with me, zeinab badawi. my guest is one of the most brilliant scientists in the world — and he's african. his ground—breaking research is helping tackle diseases that kill thousands every year.
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cameroonian—born professor christian happi gave up a successful career at harvard university in the united states and moved back to africa. he's setting up a world—class laboratory in nigeria, which will have a pandemic early detection system. he believes africa could become a global centre of knowledge about infectious diseases such as covid. how realistic is his vision? professor christian happi in ibadan, southern nigeria, welcome to hardtalk.
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how worried are you about the third wave of covid in africa? we've seen some countries are quite badly affected, such as south africa. thank you. i'm very concerned about a tidal wave of covid in africa. we've seen countries like south africa, uganda, kenya, liberia, sierra leone — as i'm speaking now, the number of cases are up over 1,000—fold in each of these countries. and i'm very concerned because, at this moment, africa has nothing else but non—pharmaceutical measures. africa has no vaccine, africa has no therapies, and we are left to ourselves simply because we really did not do our homework, or also we have not been given the opportunity to contribute. all right, i'll come to that in a moment, but you're tracking covid variants in africa. what are the chances of new mutations in africa? the chances of new mutations in africa are very high. as long as there's transmission
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occurring anywhere in the world, there is a possibility of recombination — that is that possibility of emergence of new variants. and as such, you know, it's very important and very critical that we basically vaccinate everybody across the world to avoid transmission and avoid the emergence of new variants. we've seen the new variant of the b1317 emerging in south africa, where we were earlier on. now, we have the delta variant in many countries in africa. the combination of the b1351 and the delta variant could be a very explosive cocktail that may undermine the development of all of this vaccine that we have introduced. so it's very urgent and we should work very fast. ok, so how are you seeing it, then, at the moment? are you worried that we haven't seen the worst yet in africa, or are you of the view that, although obviously you're very concerned, the fact of the matter is we've only seen 5.5 million cases
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of covid in africa and about 142,000 deaths, so which is it? well, it is definitely both. i think it is clear that africa has navigated the first two waves successfully, but now we're dealing with a new variant. we don't know exactly how this is going... i mean, the outcome of this new variant, you know, that is taking over. we are being told about stories of cases of patients that are presenting with more severe disease than the first two waves. and as such, you know, we need the vaccines. we need to work much harder. and surveillance in africa has to be intensified because as i said before, i'm very concerned that with the delta variant and the beta variant, we may end up having a very toxic cocktail. all right. let's just clear up a tiny little bit of science first. you are the first scientist who confirmed the first case of coronavirus in sub—saharan africa, and then you sequenced the virus�*
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genome within 72 hours. so just explain briefly what that meant. well, it meant a lot for africa simply because we went from a situation whereby we could not do this kind of work in africa to doing it at the speed of light, at a speed that others could not match. basically, we got the samples and in 48 hours we were able to elucidate the genetic make—up of the virus. that's what sequencing means. which means that we had an idea of the virus that is circulating in africa. and that really became very important because then that gave us an advantage, which means we had an opportunity at that point to take this information and translate this information into things like diagnostics, novel diagnostics, and then a novel vaccine. all right, 0k. as you say, the big missing piece is vaccines. africa has 16% of the global population, and yet when it comes to vaccine production,
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and that's what i want to look at with you, it is only home to 0.1% of vaccine production facilities. africa just constantly relies on advocacy to get expensive drugs and vaccines which are made in richer countries, and so you're in the role of always being a supplicant. when is that going to change, and when are clever scientists like you going to make your own vaccines in africa? well, if there's anything to learn from this pandemic or from the african leadership — i mean, from african leaders — it's absolutely the fact that our overreliance and our overdependence on supplication, as you mentioned, zeinab, on foreign aid, has failed us. and we can see today how vulnerable we are. we could see today how we can't even take care of ourselves. we are waiting for india, we are waiting for europe to come to our aid. having said this, i think it is... if there is anything africa should do, it's actually to rely on the intellectuals within africa and also in the diaspora to come
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together and start setting up the platform for developing a vaccine and producing vaccine for the next generation of the future pandemic. i mean, that will emerge anywhere, either from within africa or from anywhere in the world. africa has enough, you know, brain, in and outside africa, in order to achieve this feat. africa has enough resources, but i think it's just a matter of priorities. and i think now the narrative has started changing. african leadership and heads of state have started understanding that their future would absolutely rely on the research and development that is done on the continent. research and development is not a luxury. it's actually our fate in africa to do that. but are those leaders going to put their money where their mouth is? professor dicky akanmori, an adviser to the world health organization — "if you don't bring the money, you don't set the agenda, so our research in africa is driven by the global north." african leaders promised to spend 2%
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of their gdp to support scientific research. they are nowhere near that. why? simply because it's not a priority for them. i think simply because they do not understand that our future and the hope for africa hinges on research and development on infectious diseases, because definitely we are not only rich in natural and mineral resources, we are rich in our biodiversity. and as part of the african biodiversity are viruses and the parasite — the more reason why africa should invest in research and development in this area so that we can become not only importers of diseases, but rather importers of a solution to the rest of the world. all right. so here you are, then, being an advocate for greater spending by africans themselves on their scientific research. how confident are you that's going to happen quickly? i would believe that with more people advocating about, you know, supporting research and having
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africa getting its independence, or a true independence, through supporting the scientific research and development, supporting an establishment of a platform for vaccine production on the continent would become very important. all right. whilst we have those, then we should be able to actually change the narrative. all right. well, on vaccine development, professor sani ibrahim, a nigerian scientist at ahmadu bello university, says money allocated is inadequate, as we've just been saying, but that an even more criticalfactor, he says, is the lack of infrastructure and technological expertise. so you need more of that, don't you, in africa? and we now see that the european union is backing plans to produce covid vaccines in rwanda, south africa and senegal. so, do you think that that is the right approach, that you get this know—how transfer from the rich world to africa? it has to be a combination of both. yeah, while we want to accept
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a know—how transfer from the rich countries to africa, africa has to rely on home—grown solutions. i would not agree 100% of the proposals. sani ibrahim will say that, you know, we don't have the know—how — we do. i can tell you, i mean, confidently, that within my centre and my collaboration with university of cambridge, we did develop a vaccine that is at a preclinical stage. now, this is know—how from africa. and then we just developed a vaccine based on a prior vaccine that we're working on before. and this vaccine was built in nigeria with my collaborator in cambridge, which means that we do have the resources, the human resources necessary, both within africa and in the diaspora. which means that africa can — if given the resources, obviously. so you're saying that, basically overnight, africa could produce the vaccines it needs. there's the african union, with its target of 60% of its own vaccine needs should be produced on the continent by 2040.
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are you saying that that is achievable? you've got the know—how the expertise, the infrastructure? we do. remember, zeinab, that in the years of the �*70s and �*80s, the majority of vaccines against many diseases were produced in africa. many of those plants still exist. the technology might have changed, but, obviously, it is clear that we were doing this before. and then the question is, why can't we do it now? the reality is there, human resources on the ground. there are people that can do that on the ground. there are people in the african diaspora that can come and support this effort. and, if given the resources, i am sure we can do it. but where's the covid vaccine, then? africa has always risen to the challenges. so where's the covid vaccine, then, that's being made in africa? everybody�*s trying to get the one made, you know, in india or getting it through covax and all the rest of it. where is it in africa, the covid—i9 vaccine? the point is clear, zeinab. africans don't believe
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in themselves. these vaccines we're talking about, we have evidence we have shared with the african governments, but they don't believe in themselves and they always want help to come from outside. they don't want to invest where their mouth is. if we did the right investment, we shouldn't be in this situation where we are today. we propose accelerating clinical trials for the country, the vaccine that we have, for six months so that at least we could even have a vaccine that has been tried on the continent. the present vaccine that we are having delivered in africa have not gone into any clinical trial on the continent. are we really sure that is very protective against african population, given our own richness and in our own genome diversity? we all know that for many people, for many drugs and many vaccines out there, we are genetically very different. we might respond differently and it would have been fair enough and equitable enough to accelerate some clinical trials in africa to see how the african people respond.
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ok, so we know that african genomes are the most diverse, as you've just said, and they're the oldest. there are things in the human genome that we can't study anywhere else but in africa and sub—saharan africa is where 70% of all pathogens with pandemic potential emerge. and yet, as we said, only a fraction of global scientific research money goes into africa. so could africa, then, given it's got this rich diversity, become a global leader when it comes to scientific research and finding and finding breakthroughs to cure all sorts of illnesses? absolutely, i believe that africa has what it takes to be a global leader. if cuba had developed a vaccine today, why not africa? in egypt, our scientists and ourforefathers in egypt did great science, built pyramids, and this was with home—grown knowledge. if today we say we cannot develop assets in africa, this is not true.
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i want to believe that if the african governments invest exactly where their mouth is, provide the resources, bring the scientists together, it's not impossible that in the next year, you could see an african vaccine. you're working on one. so what's happened to it, on the covid vaccine? it is tough. we're looking for money, for clinical trials. we have a very great data from preclinical animal models. and as such, we believe that, you know, if given the opportunity, we will effectively move this vaccine forward. is the fact that we developed what is interesting about our own vaccine is the fact that we developed it in the context of africa. we do not need minus 85 freezer. we don't need cold chain. it is actually done so that it is kept at room temperature. we don't need needles. we took all of that into account in designing this thing — and that's what makes the difference between what we're talking about and what is absolutely important, because it's not built in the context of africa. all right, so let me just ask you this, then.
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only 2% of sequenced human genome is african. most of it's focused on, you know, caucasian genome. you're saying that we could learn a lot more about how to survive infectious diseases from the diversity in africa, and it could lead to gene—based therapies to help us treat cancer and alzheimer's and many other diseases. why has africa been left out, then, of this kind of scientific research? and can your centre, the excellence centre for genomic diseases in africa, help to close the gap? thank you. yes, it is happening. i remember saying about ten years ago, africa did not have the ability to sequence the genomes. in 2020, we did ourfirst genome sequence, and very quickly, which means things are changing. we do have now a new initiative across africa called the tridome genome, african genome. and we believe that with resources, with colleagues, we can effectively perform both sequences and actually provide the necessary information
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for gene therapies and then to provide the necessary information that are needed to develop the right type of vaccines for infectious diseases. we have now the right technology. we have the most performance sequencing, i mean, one of the most performance sequences in the world, in my lab. and we have the very, i mean, we have the best of the best when it comes to doing the science and analysing the data in my lab. we are reversing brain drain. we are bringing the young africans from the university of cambridge, from harvard, from oxford. and you can see today that the narrative will be changed because we do no longer need to send the samples outside africa for sequencing to provide the genomic art to elucidate the genetic map of viruses. it is happening on the continent, and years ago, it wasn't possible. all right. but there's a lot of suspicion when it comes to scientific collaboration between africans and people of african descent. and it's worth remembering the situation of henrietta lacks, the african—american woman who had very unique cancer cells. she died in 1951 at the age of 31
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from a cancerous tumour. and her cells, known as the hela cells, have been used in every major medical breakthrough, but her family never benefited in any sort of way from the use of her cells. so there's a lot of suspicion to overcome, isn't there? that's exactly what we're talking about, and that's why... you saw my interviews, i mean, in the washington post and the new york times, what we're talking about equity. we want to collaborate. we want to be in partnership with the rest of the world. we are not saying that everything must be done in africa or by africans alone. we're open for collaboration, but that collaboration should be equitable. equity requires that, as we are collaborating and contributing and generating the data, that the return on investment that is the benefit of those collaborations should be given back to the communities that provided the dna, that provided the rna. we're basically talking about, let's set a new world order where we can collaborate equitably, where we can collaborate
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as partners, where we can actually share and also share their benefit, i mean, back to the communities. so it's not about charity. it's about doing something that's absolutely necessary because that's the way it should be, otherwise, we all lose, as dr ambros wong from the university of cape town in humint human genetics said. all right. so we've got that clear. but you mentioned something there about the brain drain. you were born in cameroon where you studied, you also studied in nigeria. then you started research in malaria, and that led you to harvard university, where you spent about ten years. now you've gone back to nigeria to set up this early detection centre for pandemics. so what do you hope to achieve with doing this? what we're hoping to achieve is to set up a platform in africa where africans can come and express their given talent. we know that africans are brilliant and we really want to lead because the pandemic, virus and the pathogen, they live with us.
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let's leverage, let's take advantage of those and study them and provide the solution. and through that, we should be able to develop this early warning system that we're talking about that will not protect only africa, but will also protect the globe. basically, that is taking knowledge of the viruses and the pathogen that do have pandemic potential. new and unknown viruses characterising emerging pathogens and using them to develop countermeasures, diagnostics, therapy, vaccines, and then work with other partners in issues like climate change and environment and disease ecology to come up with these early warning systems that are what we need in order to be to be in a better place. for one minute, i mean, i would say imagine for a second if you had the ability to detect, you know, sars—cov—2 early enough. i'm sure the world wouldn't have been in this kind of dire straits in which we are right now. so, you're appealing to young africans and scientists to come back to africa and work in your kind
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of centre, and all the rest of it. but look, if somebody�*s quite comfortable working in in the united states or europe, their family's established there and so on, why should they go back and take a leaf out of your book? the answer is clear, the majority of all those africans that are out in the diaspora are often not willing to come back because they're scared to come back, because there is no platform for them to come and evolve. now, those platforms are being set up. it's not always about money, it's not always about comfort. i can tell you that many africans in the diaspora want to come back, but if they are given the right platform, they will come back. and then that's what we are trying to provide so that that becomes the incentive that they need to return and contribute to the continent development. all right. let's look at the wider issue, though, of the brain drain from africa, particularly in terms of scientists and health personnel, which is something which has generated a lot of debate
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during the covid pandemic when we've seen africa's health facilities at breaking point because of a lack of staff. and yet, and a recent 0ecd study has said that recruitment of health personnel from low— and middle income countries going to work in more advanced 0ecd countries has gone up 60% in the last 20 years. is that something that people should be really mindful of, and say this is not a state of affairs that we can support? it is very unfortunate that africa will be training these healthcare workers and then they will be snatched by those who have more resources. there should be a framework. i propose that there should be a framework where africa is being paid back the investment made on these healthcare workers that are migrating to the rest of the world, because it's very unfair on africa to train all of those doctors and nurses and other health specialists that eventually leave africa to go and support the healthcare systems that are already strong. and africa has no return in those investments.
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i think this should be a clarion call to the rest of the world so that for each african doctor that is migrating or health care worker that is migrating from africa to the rest of the world. i mean, all african countries should be compensated for their effort in their training and then for their efforts in the fact that they were able to train them and they are going to support other healthcare systems that do not contribute in their training. i mean, what form should that recompense take? because we've had people like professor racheljenkins, who has been an adviser to world health organization here in the uk, who says that the british government should give adequate recompense, not only for training costs, but also the wider opportunity costs of lost clinical training research and policy expertise to those source countries. so, how do you compensate countries, source countries? well, i think we should we should arrive to a formula, i mean, as you were saying that professorjenkins is mentioning, we should be able to come up with a figure for each person that is immigrating out there and that is absorbing the system, either in the uk or in canada
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or in the us. we should be able to come up with a formula that gives us an idea of the cost and that cost should be refunded to the countries because it's a lot of investment that those countries are making to train those people. and, at the end of the day, those people are snatched from them you know, and they get nothing, nothing back for that investment that they made. it's seen as a subsidy from africa, for instance, to richer countries. finally, professor christian happi, you've made a very persuasive case for science in africa. how long will it be before we see a sub—saharan african scientist win a nobel prize? given the advance of technological advancement and the pace of which africa is moving, i want to say that in the next 20 years, africa should be able to produce its first nobel prize. do you think you might be somebody whose name might be put forward, professor happi? i don't know. i don't know, zeinab. ijust wish, you know, regardless of where the person comes from, it is an african.
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and i will be glad, and i would like to see this happening in the days when i'm still alive. professor christian happi in ibadan, southern nigeria, thank you very much indeed for coming on hardtalk. thank you very much, zeinab. it's always been a pleasure. thank you. hello. you may have encountered a warm sunny spell out there today, but for much of the uk there's a lot of cloud around. building big clouds as well, and some heavy, even torrential,
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thundery downpours to contend with, which may bring some disruption. a chance of seeing some flooding out of some of these. that disruptive weather as we go into the evening across north wales, northern england, northern ireland, scotland, so these are the areas with the greatest risk of seeing some disruptive downpours. and still overnight we will continue with some areas of rain through these areas. the rest of england and toward south wales turning drier. actually drier towards the far north of scotland, as well, with a fair amount of cloud around. 0ne weather disturbance close to scotland for monday — another bearing down in the south—west of england on through monday afternoon. in between the two, there will be a bit of monday sunshine. northern england, northern ireland and scotland, though, starting with a lot of cloud. you can see outbreaks of rain around — still some heavier bursts to come. northern england turning drier and brighter, warmer than the rest of england and wales. they'll be some pleasant, sunny, spells, the chance of catching a shower, but there the wetter, windier weather pushing into towards the far south—west of england as we go on through the afternoon. temperatures into the high teens for the most part — a few spots getting into the low 20s. now, for wimbledon there's a chance of a showerfor monday, but it is a slim chance.
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greater chance of some interruptions from showers on tuesday. quite windy as well, at least to begin the day before things turn quieter — still with a shower possibility from mid—week onwards. now, overnight and into tuesday we'll see more of rain pushing in across england and wales — notjust rain, though, but strong winds, gales developing through the english channel affecting the channel islands, south coasts of england, some gusts approaching 60 mph. even starting tuesday, coastal parts of east anglia the far south—est of england, gusty winds in excess of 50 miles an hour. so, they may be disruptive with trees in full leaf, before the winds gradually ease during tuesday, though it stays blustery. spell of rain affecting northern england, pivoting in towards eastern scotland, some rain, too, in north—west scotland. elsewhere, sunny spells. there'll be showers around and temperatures rather on the low side for the time of the year — some of us just holding into the mid teens. further showers, even some spells of rain around on wednesday. still quite breezy. lighter winds for thursday and
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friday, some warmer, sunny spells — still the chance of a shower.
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this is bbc news. the headlines at five: a cabinet minister indicates that the use of face coverings will become a personal choice when lockdown restrictions in england are eased. we trust the british public to exercise good judgment. people will come to different conclusions. more than 20 million people watched england's brilliant night in rome — as they thrashed ukraine, and moved on to the semi finals of the euros. it's been a long year for everybody, and i'm chuffed that the two performances we put on have brought so much enjoyment and happiness to people. cheering it was a saturday night to celebrate for fans — football now is coming home — with england facing denmark at wembley on wednesday night. ministers extend the period in which legal action can be taken against housing developers in light of the cladding crisis.

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