CBN Disburses N253.54m Grant for COVID-19 Vaccine Research

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•Evaluates 68 proposals, approves five on merit
•Mustapha, Mamora hail Emefiele

By James Emejo

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) yesterday disbursed a total sum of N253.54 million grant to five health researchers under the CBN’s Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme (HSRDIS) to aid the development of vaccines and drugs to combat communicable and non-communicable diseases, including COVID-19.

The scheme is part of the apex bank’s policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic to spur the development of vaccines and drugs.

CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, said in Abuja during the award of grants to successful applicants that so far, 68 proposals had been evaluated from the over 286 proposals received from the public, while five proposals with merits, valued at N253.54 million, were recommended by experts for financing.

He stated that some of the recommended proposals had the potential to enable the development of the Nigerian vaccine for COVID-19.

He congratulated the recipients of the award for their efforts in working to develop solutions to some of Nigeria’s healthcare challenges and expressed satisfaction that most of the recipients are from academia, a sector, according to him, lacked funding for research.

Emefiele said a vibrant and innovative health care system remained vital for national security.

“We all witnessed how a number of countries and territories adopted stringent and immediate export restrictions on critical medical supplies and drugs that were specifically meant to help countries respond to the spread of the virus,” he stated.

He added that the apex bank has over time emphasised the need for the country to move from a consumer-based economy to a more productive economy.

He expressed hope that the grant scheme will facilitate Nigerians’ access to the much-needed vaccines and drugs not just for COVID-19, but other communicable or non-communicable diseases.

He added that the CBN remained committed to the successful implementation of the scheme and will ensure the review and evaluation of subsequent applications.

Emefiele said the bank had developed intervention programmes and schemes across various sectors, including the health sector.

According to him, as part of proactive measures to support the growth of the Nigerian healthcare sector, the CBN introduced the Healthcare Sector Intervention Facility aimed at strengthening the sector’s capacity to meet the increasing demand for healthcare products and services, particularly pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare value chain players intending to build or expand capacity.

Emefiele stated that currently, 82 projects, valued at N85.89 billion had been financed through the scheme, stressing that the projects financed comprised 26 pharmaceutical and 56 medical ones across the country.

He urged the award recipients to judiciously utilise the opportunity offered to them by the apex bank and strive to achieve the purposes of their research by ensuring that their projects meet the set targets, aims and objectives of supporting the development of vaccines and drugs.

He added, however, that the review of proposals is still ongoing while the Body of Experts is expected to provide recommendations for additional award of grants soon.

He said: “Today’s grant awards are a testimony to the significant role research and development in healthcare could play in supporting economic growth, particularly as growth is highly dependent on a strong and healthy workforce.

“Meeting our need for a strong and healthy workforce with better safety profiles is a task that can only be addressed through a healthcare sector that provides for significant investments in research and development.
“We all witnessed how a public health emergency brought strong economies and developed nations to their knees. In Nigeria, it exposed the fragility of our healthcare system and the urgent need to look inward and build a more robust and sustainable healthcare system.

“The response by some advanced and developing countries also reflected the significant advancements that have occurred in the health sector in those countries.

“Their investments in R&D enabled health institutions to develop a rapid response to the coronavirus, with the deployment of vaccines in record time.”

He added that these measures have helped to increase the availability of vaccines in developed countries, while developing nations have had to contend with a limited supply of vaccines for their citizens.

The CBN governor said it was therefore imperative that the country explored ways to encourage research and innovation in the treatment of health conditions for Nigerians.

The HSRDIS was introduced with the release of the implementation guidelines and subsequent inauguration of the Scheme’s Body of Experts (BoE) in July 2020.

Under the HSRDIS, grants are provided to researchers and healthcare institutions for the development of vaccines, drugs and herbal medicines, which could help curtail the spread of COVID-19 and any other communicable or non-communicable diseases.

In his remarks, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, who is also Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, said though COVID-19 had come with adverse impacts on the economy, it also provided opportunities which the country must take advantage of to transform the country’s healthcare system.

While commending the CBN for the healthcare financing initiative, he said the country needed to boost its healthcare system to withstand further pandemics and any other related health issues.

He said: “Once again, I congratulate the CBN governor and your wonderful team for the great job you have done to save our healthcare system and provide us with an opportunity for our researchers, ventilating their wealth of experience and creating a platform for us to further the course of research in the health sector.

“You’re doing a great job. We have battles with the ability to balance lives and livelihoods and I must say Emefiele, you have been at the forefront of that from day one either through the institution of the CBN interventions in several areas of our economy or in your leadership through the CACOVID.

“Never in the history of Nigeria have we had a national response that broadened the corporate work that we did with the COVID-19 response.”

The Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, appreciated the efforts of Emefiele in providing critical interventions at the point in time.

He said Emefiele was not just promoting the primary healthcare system but the impact of the interventions, when well implemented, would strengthen the system.

He added that the symbolic intervention was a step in the right direction for the country.