Nigerian-made COVID-19 Vaccine Underway, Says FG

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 Plans to save 3.7m infant lives in 10 years

By Onyebuchi Ezigbo

Nigeria may soon join the league of countries with breakthroughs in the development of candidate vaccines for tackling COVID-19 pandemic disease.

Hope for this medical fit came just as the federal government announced that its efforts at improving Primary Health Care (PHC) system across the country would save the lives of 3.7 million infants in the next 10 years.

Speaking at the Ministerial Health Sector Media Engagement in Abuja on yesterday, the Director General of the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Professor Babatunde Lawal Salako, said the institute is making progress with the research into COVID-19 vaccine and would in the next few months be able to come up with a candidate vaccine.

Salako said the institute was compelled to undertake the research for COVID-19 vaccine due to the public concern about its ravaging impact.

“We had to go back to the sequence of the virus, which we developed and started looking at how we can clone the virus. Now we have passed through those stages and we are going through bioformatics, trying to clone the virus so that we can come up with a candidate vaccine,” he said.

He, however, explained that producing a candidate vaccine does not automatically lead to the invention of a vaccine, adding that only a few got to clinical stages out of the many candidate vaccines that have so far been developed.

“What I will say is that we will come up with a candidate vaccine that will be subjected to tests but we cannot say for sure if it will pass through other stages,” he said.

The Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaibu, said the federal government hoped to drastically reduce maternal and child deaths through the ongoing efforts to revamp healthcare facilities in the country.

Shuaibu said that apart from seeking to attain the lofty goals of universal health coverage, the improvement in healthcare delivery system would avert 2.05 million under five deaths and an additional 1.03 million neonatal in the next 10 years.

“This represents a significant leap from the projected 69,819 lives saved if things remain the same,” he said.

He further expressed the hope that with an ambitious scale-up of primary healthcare coverage, a total of 110,540 additional women could be saved over the course of 10 years to reflect the improvements in health systems delivery, which is projected at 92 per cent.

Shuaibu noted that improved health indices is compared with a projected 9,561 lives saved if the healthcare delivery had remained the same

While launching the revised implementation guidelines for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) at the event, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said the sector is currently undergoing progressive transformation through the implementation of new health sector agenda approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Ehanire said that the reinvigorated healthcare financing strategies is one of the innovative policies of Buhari’s administration.

He also said that the target of the health sector’s Next Level Agenda of the Buhari-led administration is to reduce by 60 per cent health-related gaps in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through the implementation of the expanded PHC service, mandatory health insurance and operationalisation of the National Emergency Medical Service and Ambulance System.

According to Ehanire, the health sector is currently funded with resources from two streams.

The first being the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF), which is one per cent of Consolidated Revenue Fund for healthcare to Nigerians as enshrined in the 2014 National Health Act.

He said that the first release of the fund was in 2018, which marked the beginning of the journey towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

The minister said the second source of health financing is from the National Health Insurance Scheme, which is awaiting the law that would make health insurance mandatory for all residents of Nigeria.

He explained that the BHCPF operates through three gateways, namely the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, the National Health Insurance Scheme and the National Emergency Medical Treatment Committee.

The minister said that these bodies are to provide sustainable models that would ensure access to a generous minimum package of health service to enrollees and ensures equity and financial risk protection for vulnerable populations.

“The revised guideline for the administration, disbursement and monitoring of the BHCPF has been revised and approved by the National Council on Health, to reset implementation processes for better alignment with the National Health Act,” he said

The engagement with the media, which was meant to provide insight into the progress made in the country’s health sector amidst the heightened challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic, saw most the chief executives of agencies in the Federal Ministry of Health took turns to make presentations on various milestones recorded by their agencies.

In his presentation, the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the country is gearing up for a new security architecture made possible by COVID-19 that triggered determined effort to re-engineer the health sector.

Ihekweazu said: “We never again be in a desperate position as we were earlier in the year when we were scrambling for laboratories and treatment centres.”

On her part, the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Christianah Adeyeye, said the agency has scaled up its regulatory roles to the extent that Nigeria is on the verge of getting the required certification to be able to produce vaccines.