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‘Importing vaccines from India exposes country’s failing health institutions’

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At last, the much-awaited COVID-19 vaccines are now in the country and President Muhammadu Buhari and other top leaders are expected to be vaccinated publicly on Saturday.

But there are still questions regarding the state of the health sector. For instance, on the lips of most Nigerians are: What would Nigeria have done without the free donation of vaccines by the COVAX facility? Nigeria took delivery of COVID-19 vaccines made in India. What does that say of Nigeria’s health sector and capacity to play in global health platforms? If India, which used to be at the same level as Nigeria could put its act together to produce vaccines in a few months, why not Nigeria?

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Public health physician/epidemiologist and a member of Lagos State COVID-19 Response Team, Prof. Akin Osibogun, told The Guardian that the cost of research and development to rapidly produce the vaccines in rtcord time has been high. “Pfizer must have received almost a billion dollars in advance orders or research support from United States (US) and European governments,” he said.

Osibogun said without support from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative (GAVI), through the COVAX Initiative, it would have taken longer for developing countries to access the vaccines. He said that India has been able to produce the vaccines under license, which is evidence of its level of technological capability. “By the way, India is a nuclear power, it produces its own trains and cars. The basis for comparison between the two countries is limited,” Osibogun said.

The first batch of Oxford/AstraZenica COVID-19 vaccine doses are offloaded from a plane during its arrival at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, in Abuja, Nigeria, on March 2, 2021. - A shipment of nearly four million coronavirus jabs arrived in Nigeria on March 2, 2021, making Africa's most populous nation the world's third country to receive vaccines under Covax, a global scheme to provide free inoculations. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)


On what Nigeria would have done without the free donation of vaccine by COVAX facility, President, National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, told The Guardian: “It leaves a lot to ponder about our failing health institutions. As we speak, Nigeria does not have a vaccine production centre. What we have in Yaba, Lagos Nigeria is a facility that has been abandoned. We are aware that about N10 billion has been put in to revamp our local production but a lot more money is still needed to meet the world best standard vaccine production facility.

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“Should we not have got this vaccine today we will still be hoping to buy from the top vaccine producers.”

On importing vaccines from India, Uyilawa said: “It is true Nigeria in yesteryear’s was a health tourist nation but that was in the past. According to the International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) in 2018, Nigeria spent about 200 million US dollars on medical tourism to India alone. Now, let us ponder on this amount and what it has done to the health institution in India; that’s a lot of money. So, India sat down and grew its health sector, so we should copy from them. There is no shame in that; let us sit down, use their template and rejig our health sector. Recall that India currently has one of the world’s largest vaccine production facilities. It is a resolve by the government of India to grow its health industry. COVID 19 has shown us how weak our health institutions are. We call on governments from federal to state, local government to sit up and brainstorm with major policymakers to revamp her health care institutions or face more gory days ahead.”

A consultant pharmacist and medical director, Merit Healthcare, Dr. Lolu Ojo, said: “We probably would have bought the vaccines ourselves, either through direct negotiation with the manufacturers or through the facilitation of international agencies like WHO.

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“There has been some unconfirmed report about the Federal Government’s plan to spend over N400 billion on vaccines and vaccination logistics. I know somehow, we will find the resources to get our people vaccinated.”

On importing vaccines from India, Ojo added: “We have said it over and again that Nigeria, as a nation, a resource-rich nation for that matter; has sub-optimised her potentials through lack of visionary leadership.

“India is what it is today because her leaders, over the years, made a plan for it. India is becoming the pharmaceutical headquarters of the world and this is apparent in the supply of Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) drugs and now, COVID-19 vaccines.

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“We seem to be contented with our status as a ‘consumption’ nation. Other nations are all over the place in Nigeria to get their share of our large consumer market. The Asians are in the top league in this regard.”

On whether Nigeria could have financed its vaccine needs from the 2021 budget, the pharmacist said: “The total allocation to the Federal Ministry of Health as proposed by the President in the 2021 budget is N547billion, about 7 per cent of the total. Out of this amount, N380.21 billion or 69 per cent is for recurrent expenditure and the balance is for capital projects. I don’t see where COVID-19 vaccines are accommodated in the budget.”

MEANWHILE, India penultimate week made its first shipment of a locally made COVID-19 shot to the WHO-backed equitable vaccine distribution network COVAX.

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The World Health Organisation last month paved the way for the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine’s global roll-out by approving emergency use of the product produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, and SK Bioscience of South Korea.

SII will also soon start producing the Novavax vaccine mainly for poor and middle-income countries.

India, the world’s biggest maker of vaccines, has shipped over 17 million vaccine doses to more than two dozen countries - including around six million as gifts to partners such as Bangladesh and Nepal. For its own campaign, New Delhi has so far only ordered 31 million doses.

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