Prof. Temitope Alonge, the Deputy Chairman of Oyo State COVID-19 Task Force, says higher Vitamin D levels due to constant exposure to sunlight may be responsible for the lower death rates and severity of COVID-19 in the country.
Alonge said this while speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ibadan on treatment protocol adopted by the state in management of COVID-19 patients.
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Alonge, a former Chief Medical Director, University College Hospital, Ibadan, said that there was a link between levels of vitamin D, which plays a role in the immune function, and respiratory health.
According to him, the task force had also started a study that discovered that Vitamins D level played a major role on severity and complications of COVID-19.
“Vitamin D has been looked at.
“It has two major functions; one is called endocrine and the other one is called autocrine.
“The endocrine function assists in the absorption of calcium which helps build the immune system and keeps you strong.
“That’s what most people think Vitamin D is for but, in fact, Vitamin D receptor is expressed on immune cells.
“The autocrine function of Vitamin D is that it stimulates the cells to produce antibodies as required.
“So, the abilities to produce these antibodies are already inside of you and your cells have it.
“But they won’t produce it until they have a trigger by Vitamin D3, the active form which forms from when the natural ultraviolet (UV), light interferes with a product in our skin.
“In our study on micronutrients status of some patients at the Olodo Infectious Disease Centre, we discovered that when a few patients did not turn negative quickly, when we added Vitamin D 100,000 to 200,000 International units, within five days, they became negative.
“So, in effect, a Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased autoimmunity, as well as an increased susceptibility to viral infections,” he said.
Alonge said that they were beginning to isolate and analyse the genetic composition of coronavirus strain that was circulating and causing infection in the country in order to know if it was different from others.
“So, the question is that; are we actually being protected from the high deaths experienced in the Western countries by the Vitamin D we have in abundance in Africa?
“Ordinarily, what the western world was saying was that we were going to be picking dead bodies from the streets.
“The damage that we have seen in other parts of the world is monumental and we are now beginning to sequence the genome of this particular ribonucleic acid (RNA), single strand virus to find out whether the strain we have is different.
“We are also looking at what you call antibody mounting; you will be amazed that what we saw from the patients at the ISON experiences place, a testing centre in Ibadan was that a lot of them already had antibodies.
“We need to start thinking of the autocrine function of Vitamin D which is freely available because of our warmer climate and take cognisance of the fact that we have some inherent immunity against COVID-19 due to the abundance of sunlight.
“We are working on this hypothesis and hopefully we will be able to sequence the particular strain of coronavirus in various localities in Nigeria and at the same time look at other co-factors that give us some degree of resistance to the virus,” he said.
According to him, while the skin manufactures the Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, elderly people should consume Vitamin D fortified foods.
“For the younger people, you should be able to take enough Vitamin D from the sun, maybe by spending an hour or two in the sun before 12 noon.
“Salmon is a very rich source of vitamin D apart from the one you get in the sun.
“A lot of people from low income communities eat more of salmon and they are probably going to survive this much more than those who out of sophistication have taken themselves off Salmon,” he said.
‘What we give to patients’
Speaking on the state’s treatment protocol for COVID-19, he said that the anti-malarial drug Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), Zinc, Vitamins D and Vitamin C are being used for COVID-19 patients.
According to him, Zinc, Vitamins D and Vitamin C are also used as pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs for healthcare personnel handling COVID-19 patients.
“We are doing the best we can and we are having what we call a coherent and cohesive management protocol
“It is not one man knows it all, it is a collective reasoning between infectious disease experts and expertise.
“What Hyroxychloroquine does is to reduce inflammation; it is not that we are using it to treat the virus like many people think, no antiviral drug has been proven to be foolproof.
“All we are doing is to reduce inflammation and make sure our patients don’t get to the point where they will have respiratory failure.
“We were very blessed that an 83-year-old man, whose computed tomography (CT) scan showed features of COVID-19, recovered completely and went home without need for oxygen,” he said. (NAN)