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COVID-19••• Ensuring sustainable funding for emergency

By Opeyemi Babalola
21 November 2021   |   4:20 am
The initial scramble that came with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria exposed the inadequacy in the country’s healthcare infrastructure with many states in Nigeria not able to test for coronavirus.

Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib

• National Summit On Pandemic Billed For December 6

The initial scramble that came with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria exposed the inadequacy in the country’s healthcare infrastructure with many states in Nigeria not able to test for coronavirus.
This is despite the country not quite too long experienced Ebola, which should have naturally prepared the country adequately when the country had cases of COVID-19 to deal with it. But not.
As part of efforts to rally action to halt and manage the spread of coronavirus was the setting up of the Presidential Steering Committee on Coronavirus to work along the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Since the first incident, Nigeria has been lucky that it has not had to grapple with catastrophic outbreak as experienced in the United States of America, United Kingdom and some other countries. And the figures around COVID-19 in the country reflect this. As at November 15, Nigeria has so far tested 3,392,457 samples, of which 213,147 were confirmed positive for Covid-19, while active cases are 4,447 and cases discharged to date are 205,732. There have sadly been 2,968 covid-related fatalities with a case fatality rate of 1.39 per cent.

The bed occupancy was 16.17 per cent in 86 isolation wards, and oxygen is widely available, mainly in cylinders, with oxygen concentrators as back up. 
Majority of patients, 67 per cent on admission in isolation wards have comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension  obesity and other non-communicable diseases, which are known determinants of the severity of COVID-19 illness. The same finding has been made in some Eastern European countries  where severe waves of the pandemic are raging presently.

The Executive Director, National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib at the PSC briefing on COVID-19 last week, disclosed that as at November 15, 2021, a total of 5,891,305 eligible persons have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, which represents only 5.3 per cent of the overall eligible population while 3,252,067 have received their second dose and are fully vaccinated, thereby representing only 2.9 per cent of the overall population of eligible persons.

“As we are all aware, the overall population of eligible persons targeted for COVID-19 vaccination to enable the country reach herd immunity against the disease is 111,776,503.”

Nonetheless, Shuaib stated that looking at the figures above, it is extremely risky to go into the end of year festivities which would involve a lot of travels, crowded gatherings and reunions without adequate measures to ensure that people are protected against COVID-19.

He said, “As we move towards the end of the year, it has become necessary to repeatedly emphasize the need for eligible Nigerians to get vaccinated against COVID-19. We have all come to agree that COVID-19 exists and is evidently fatal. Some of us have lost our friends, family members and colleagues to COVID-19. This pandemic has remained a formidable obstacle to the smooth conduct of our businesses, education and personal living. More than any other disease in recent history, COVID-19 has generated protracted global economic downturn and social inconveniences with grave impact on developing countries including Nigeria.
“It will be difficult to recover from all of these adversities if we do not take aggressive measures to control COVID-19 in the shortest possible time. This is why NPHCDA, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health and the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 Response has initiated the COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Campaign.

“The idea of mass vaccination campaign is to quickly increase the number of fully vaccinated eligible population in Nigeria thereby rapidly moving towards achieving herd immunity and creating an enabling environment for economic recovery and a return to social normalcy in the country.

“However, the mass vaccination campaigns will require mass mobilization of Nigerians for increased vaccine uptake. This cannot be done successfully without the support of all critical stakeholders including governors, commissioners, the LGA chairmen, traditional and religious leaders, the civil society organisations, the State Ministries of Health, the State Primary Healthcare Boards, all health professionals and our professional media community. We remain thankful to all stakeholders for the selfless services rendered thus far and we kindly request that we continue to take up the responsibility of protecting Nigerians against COVID-19 by continually educating and sensitizing our community with the right information and right resources in order to fully protect them from the deadly virus.

“On our part at NPHCDA, we are supporting states to establish mass vaccination sites across the country. There will be expansion of vaccination sites to all public health facilities (primary, secondary, tertiary), inclusion of private health facilities and setting up of mass vaccination sites in populated areas e.g. universities, colleges of education, polytechnics, schools of technology, vocational institutions, stadiums, motor parks, town squares, markets, shopping malls, to mention a few. This process will not interrupt the ongoing vaccination services in the public health facilities. 
“All designated health facilities would still be vaccinating against COVID-19 as well as carrying out their routine services. We are leveraging on fixed and outreach routine immunization sessions and creating temporary posts to expand the COVID-19 vaccination service delivery. We are continuing to engage with stakeholders to promote awareness and vaccine confidence, and we have strengthened our accountability framework to reflect our principles of transparency in the handling of COVID-19 vaccination in Nigeria. Our best guarantee against COVID-19 for now is vaccination, and that is why Government is committed to mass vaccination campaigns. We hope to vaccinate at least 50 per cent of our population by the end of January 2022.”
Shuaib threatened that any Nigerian found obtaining the COVID-19 vaccination card illegally, buying or selling, will be made to face the law. 
“The Joint Task Force on COVID-19 which includes security agents from the ICPC, DSS and other relevant security agencies remain on alert at every corner of the country and are regularly making impromptu checks. It would also be extremely difficult to use fraudulently obtained cards outside the shores of the country. 

“In addition, as part of our efforts to mitigate fraud and further enhance the integrity of our vaccination exercise, I am glad to announce that NPHCDA has commenced a nationwide “Operation Verify Your COVID-19 Vaccination Record Online” exercise. The exercise will enable you confirm your personal information such as name, date of birth, and correct damaged QR codes. Verifying your personal information will enable government to secure your vaccination record against impersonation and other fraudulent activities.”

He assured Nigerians that the government has adequate doses of vaccines in the country. “We received 3,924,000 doses of AZ in batches between October 22nd – 25th from the COVAX facility and also a combination of 1,022,400 doses of AZ as donations from the Governments of Germany, Switzerland and Italy last week from COVAX. The Federal Government has received commitment of over 11.99million and 12.2million doses of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines respectively.

“We also have received commitment of 4,953,600 doses of Moderna as donation from US Government through COVAX. These are a few of the doses coming in batches in December and January 2022. We would also like to remind us that the Federal Government procured 39,800,000 doses of J&J COVID-19 vaccine through the AVATT and these have been coming in batches. If you are 18 years and above and unvaccinated, simply walk into the nearest vaccination site to take your COVID-19 vaccine.  It is free, safe, effective and protects you, your family and your community. And if you have taken your first dose, check your vaccination card for your due date and ensure you take the second dose for full protection. Almost six million Nigerians have safely taken the vaccines. Six million Nigerians cannot be wrong,” Shuaib said.
Also speaking, the National Incident Manager, Dr Mukhtar Muhammed, noted that though COVID-19 cases are rising in Europe, especially some of the countries that have had a very high or significant level of vaccination; in Nigeria however, especially in the last four weeks, there has been downward trend.

“This is the same situation we were in last year, where the number of cases dropped to less than one 150 per week. We have to interpret this information with caution because with the level of un-vaccination that we have, and the low level of compliance to non-pharmaceutical and social measures, we are still not immune to having a very high number of cases in the coming weeks.
“This period of time heralds the end of the year, where many people who have travelled out or people who are based in other countries will start coming back to this country. We have a positive correlation between numbers of passengers who are coming into the country with the numbers of cases of COVID-19 that we have recorded in the past.

“We, therefore, need to be more conscious; need to exercise more safety measures; and need to be more vigilant to protect ourselves and family from COVID-19. The pandemic is not yet over, and a possible fourth wave can happen. Last year, we saw how the entire wave started. From April, May, and June we had our first wave by November, December to January we had our second wave and by July, August up to October we had the third wave.
“We need to continue doing the things that we know works. First and foremost at this time is to make sure that we improve our level of vaccination and it begins at the individual level, household level, and the community. We, therefore, huge Nigerians to take these seriously, the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to prevent it from happening, and science has shown that people who are vaccinated are unlikely to come down with a severe disease or even to die from the disease.”
However, as the year is coming to an end, the PSC needs to take stock of its activities to fully prepare the country not just next year or for another epidemic or pandemic. So, it will not be out of place for the PSC to look into its activities nine months after it was established, x-raying the challenges, what are the missed opportunities and how to build a sustainable health promotion, health safety and buy health security system for the country.

And the upcoming COVID-19 summit themed: ‘Review, reposition and push through the last mile’ to end COVID-19 pandemic and build back better resilent health system could be a good platform.
The summit slated for December 6 and 8, 2021 would have critical stakeholders, government agencies, states, the National Assembly, development partners, civil society organizations, private sectors, research institutions and the members of the academia in attendance to review and charge a better course for the country’s healthcare system, especially ensuring a sustainable funding for the response.