By Rasheed Hassan
After the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Nigeria, the private sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) rose to the occasion. Led by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, this coalition has been able to pool together, as at the time of going to press, N27.1 billion to be used to support the World Health Organisation (WHO), the federal government, and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in the fight against the pandemic.
The funds are also expected to help alleviate some of the economic hardships resulting from the pandemic.
Before the involvement of the private sector, Emefiele, had roused the apex bank to put forward its initiative on how to confront the pandemic and reduce its negative impact on the Nigerian economy.
After thinking through the situation, he stated that while the country is genuinely worried about the devastating impact of the pandemic, it was important to acknowledge that Nigeria’s ability to restore the growth of her economy was and still is dependent on how the government and people address the public health crisis engendered by it.
He followed this accurate assessment of the whole scenario with the CBN’s launch of a N100 billion healthcare intervention fund. The idea was to ensure that practitioners in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors are able to access finance at single digit rate through this fund. The stated objective is to improve the capacity of the nation’s health system to address emerging public health challenges.
The objectives of the CBN’s intervention are hinged on the need to reduce the tendency on the part of Nigerians to seek medical help abroad, a habit that had become a scourge on the nation’s effort to conserve foreign exchange.
Also, it is intended to provide long-term, low cost finances for healthcare infrastructure development that would lead to the evolvement of world class healthcare facilities in the country.
That the interest rate on this facility is within a single digit range of not less than five per cent and not more than nine per cent, is a clear indication that it will catalyse and improve access to affordable credit by indigenous pharmaceutical companies to expand their operations and comply with the World Health Organisation’s Good Manufacturing Practices (WHO GMP).
Furthermore, it is the intendment of the apex bank to use the facility to support the provision of shared services through one-stop healthcare solution to enhance competition and reduce the cost of healthcare delivery in the country.
This will also encourage greater research and development in Nigeria of drugs and vaccines that would help prevent the spread of the virus. There is already a framework in progress under which grants and long term facilities will be provided to researchers, science institutions and biotechnology firms to develop the Nigerian Vaccine.
What is important is the CBN’s appreciation of the enormity of the problem at hand which has made it aware of the pertinence of involving other interest groups. Without being prodded, it understood that it may not be able to actualize the laudable objective on its own. That may have influenced its decision to bring on board private sector players under a coalition against the pandemic. Though inspired by it, the apex bank ceded the operation of the coalition to the private sector which, based on a recent media outing, is deploying the fund so far realised and which is believed to be worth well over N27 billion to stated causes.
As proved by what is already on ground, the resources put together by the coalition is actually being deployed to mobilizing even further private sector thought leadership which aims at raising public awareness and buy-in for COVID-19 prevention while at the same time providing direct support to strengthen the healthcare sector’s capacity to respond to the crisis.
In the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), there is emerging evidence that the private sector, driven by the CBN, has been able to procure needed Isolation centres, medical equipment and is in the process of providing close to 4,000 hospital beds across the country which will serve as a significant boost towards the efforts at containing the spread of COVID-19.
Again, we commend the apex bank and corporate Nigeria for accepting that the era of government alone is gone for good. It is from this perspective that we worry about the sustainability of ongoing collaboration that has the potential to make the nation’s healthcare system internationally competitive.
The Managing Director and CEO of the Aliko Dangote Foundation, Zouera Youssoufou,, Dangote Group’s representative in CACOVID, said that their activities are executed with ease because of the presence of the partners all over the country. These partners help to handle the logistics in those locations.
And just like the CBN governor had assured, Youssoufou stated that all of the coalition’s accounts are going to be audited by KPMG and those accounts will be made public.
As the number of confirmed cases in the country continues to rise, the CACOVID has executed plans to increase the number of isolation facilities available to be used by the NCDC.
The first phase of this is the completion of isolation centres in six states including the FCT, while the second phase is the creation and equipping of isolation centres in the remaining 30 states of the nations.
For the first phase, the construction of the isolation centre at Yaba in Lagos state is still ongoing, with a budget of N1 billion. A 66-bed capacity Isolation Centre fully refurbished and equipped by CACOVID, at the cost of N200 million, has been handed over to the Kano State Government.
Youssoufou explains that in all of these transactions, no cash is given but the CACOVID purchased the ventilators, PPEs, testing kits, and delivered and installed the equipment before handing over to the state government or the NCDC.
The specialist hospital at Sobi, Ilorin in Kwara state has also been upgraded to a 100-bed facility and handed over to the state government. Similarly, the Rivers State Government received a fully equipped isolation centre in Port Harcourt, while Enugu State received some beds and equipment to boost its isolation facility.
Also, CACOVID partnered with THISDAY and Arise Media group and others to transform the THISDAY Dome in Abuja into a 360-bed isolation and treatment centre.
The CACOVID is also funding part of the Surveillance Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System (SORMAS) and providing for logistics cost of ambulances and movement of patients.
To further assist the testing process, the group launched a screening tool which administers a 5-stage questionnaire for users to determine symptoms they might be experiencing, pre-existing health conditions, recent travel history, and exposure to confirmed cases or risk zones like healthcare facilities.
It is commendable that the CBN, after setting the CACOVID in motion, reverted to its role as a regulator. This will enable it to monitor and evaluate the operations of the coalition to ensure that its activities are in line with the principles and objectives of the coalition.
Hassan, a public affairs commentator, is based in Abuja