The Central Bank Nigeria’s efforts to encourage research and diagnostics could prove to be the magic wand that will eventually liberate the country’s health sector, writes James Emejo
There’s no doubt that the recent outbreak and spread of COVID-19 has posed new challenges as well as exposed obvious weaknesses in Nigeria’s health system.
A situation, whereby research had been relegated to the background in virtually every sphere of the economy, especially among the so-called research institutions is particularly worrisome.
The nation’s research institutions are only a shadow of their own. Most institutions of higher learning no longer engage in quality research works partly due to lack of funding and sometimes manpower deficiency. Yet, as evident in other climes, ivory towers ought to regularly provide solutions to societal issues through their research interventions.
Nigeria, unfortunately has often had to seek solutions from the outside to address societal problems which should have been settled if research had been taken seriously from the onset with past administrations.
Former THISDAY editor and columnist, Mr. Bolaji Abdullahi, once took a swipe at the Nigerian medical profession when he teased in one of his write-ups that the cemeteries were perhaps filled with the mistake of doctors, an informed narrative of the deficiencies in the country’s health system, especially in the areas of medical diagnosis. Abdullahi highlighted the reason for the increasing appeal for medical tourism by Nigerians to various parts of the world.
This reporter also recounts a personal experience whereby several medical diagnosis he underwent with the country for an ailment, turned out to be grossly inaccurate when the laboratory results were further subjected to evaluation by medical experts in Cairo, Egypt. A medical expert at the Cleopatra Hospital, Cairo once expressed his disappointment about the country’s health system during a chat with THISDAY.
According to him, he has heard so much about Nigeria being the giant of Africa since he was a child- and now probably in his 70s- yet the country appeared to be more backward than one would have expected.
He said of particular concern was the fact that Nigerians trooped to Egypt and other parts of the world to seek solution to ailments such as headaches that should ordinarily be taken care of by any hospital.
The foregoing puts into proper context the priceless intervention of the CBN in the health sector, particular research and local manufacturing of pharmaceutical products amid the growing threat of COVID-19 on socio-economic life.
A development whereby the country continued to import basic hygiene products from other countries even within Africa as well as the lack of motion in the research of potential vaccine for the pandemic was particularly embarrassing.
In response, CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, had announced a N100 billion healthcare intervention fund earlier in March.
The credit support facility for the sector will help pharmaceutical companies and healthcare practitioners to expand and build capacity.
Emefiele had said: “I believe we must now envision and work towards a Nigeria with the cutting edge medical facilities to provide world-class care to the sick and vulnerable, enable our universities and research institutions to provide the requisite education and training that is required to keep
these ecosystems functioning sustainably and efficiently, and millions of Nigerians employed in meaningful and well-paying jobs. This is the Nigeria that we must aspire to build.”
The CBN governor had also unveiled plans by the apex bank to build diagnostic centres in the six geopolitical zones of the country and Abuja adding that the centre would be established in Abuja would have both heart and cancer diagnostic centres.
He said the centres would further limit medical tourism by providing quality assets, which normally attracts Nigerians to other parts of the world.
“The importance cannot be quantified because once your illness is diagnosed, the assignment of the doctors will be made simple. The centres will be done in a way that a referral will come from teaching and private hospitals. Those coming to access care at the centres will be paying to generate revenue so the centres can manage themselves without CBN interference,” noted Emefiele.
He added the health and education remained bedrock of development of any country.
And true to its words, the CBN had under the N100 billion healthcare sector intervention fund, announced that it had already approved and disbursed N10.15 billion for some projects, for the establishment of advanced diagnostic and health centres and the expansion of some pharmaceutical plants for essential drugs and intravenous fluids.
Moreover, to boost research interventions in the sector, apex bank recently released guidelines for accessing the healthcare funding under the Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme (HSRDIS) to help strengthen the public healthcare system with innovative financing of research and development (R&D) in new and improved drugs, vaccines and diagnostics of infectious diseases in Nigeria.
“Specifically, the HSRDIS is designed to trigger intense national R&D activities to develop a Nigerian vaccine, drugs and herbal medicines against the spread of COVID-19 and any other communicable or non-communicable diseases through the provision of grants to biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies, institutions, researchers, and research institutes for the research and development of drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases,” the CBN stated.
The scheme seeks to boost domestic manufacturing of critical drugs and vaccines to ensure their sustainable domestic supply and reduce the bulk manufacturing costs of the drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines in the country.
The CBN explained that funding for the scheme shall be derived from the Developmental Component of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEDF).
The grant limit include a maximum of N50 billion for research activities and maximum of N500 million for development/manufacturing activities while disbursement under the scheme shall be made to beneficiaries in tranches subject to approved milestones achieved.
Also, in terms of the timelines for conclusion of the tasks, the CBN noted that research activities should not be more than two years from the date of release of fund while development/manufacturing activities is given not more than one year from the date of release of fund.
With the latest incursion into the health sector, analysts believe the country is indeed prepared to take advantage of the opportunities presented by COVID-19 towards the revitalisation of the health sector as well as make the country a health tourism destination for other countries.
This is so because getting medical diagnosis right is the first and most important step to solving human health challenges.