Nigeria has what it takes to become leader in healthcare, says Osinbajo

Osinbajo

Osinbajo at the event

Nigeria must take its own destiny in its hands, build local capacities that will ensure health access to the people, and take advantage of the opportunity to become a leading nation in healthcare.

This was the submission of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, who is of the firm belief that there are already clear indications that “we are well on the way,” to getting the job done.

Speaking on Monday in Abuja at the International Conference on Health Access beyond COVID-19, Osinbajo highlighted the country’s strengths in the areas of healthcare while emphasising major steps the country needed to take in order to improve its heath system.

According to him, one of the eye openers from the COVID-19 pandemic “is that despite infrastructural weaknesses we have an experienced and robust public health system, peopled by some of the best personnel in the world, but more importantly (is) the huge opportunities for becoming a leading nation in healthcare.”

Buttressing his point on building local capacity, the VP said the pandemic revealed that “every nation is on her own in a global pandemic, and how vaccine-rich nations at some point even banned exports in order to meet local needs, it is clear that we must take our destiny in our own hands. And there is great potential.

“Last December, the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) launched a new set of COVID-19 test kits that can produce results in 57 minutes. The new kit was designed by Joseph Shaibu, a molecular virologist at NIMR.”

Osinbajo declared that “the healthcare system of our dreams is ahead of us, we know what we want and what is possible. We have the men and women with the required expertise; what we need is more diligent and focused management.

“Only recently the President established the Healthcare Reform committee which I have the privilege of chairing. That may well be at least one of the vehicles for ensuring that we are able to get some of our dreams comes true.”

Establishing the health sector reform committee is one of the ways the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration is making concerted efforts towards transforming the country’s health sector.

According to the VP, other ongoing measures include funding for healthcare research and developing solutions in pharmaceuticals and medical consumables; and the health sector component of the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP).

“It is evident that the way forward is more funding for health care research and for innovators to develop solutions in pharmaceuticals and medical consumables, the VP disclosed.

He continued: “Our administration established the Healthcare Sector Intervention Fund Facility which has disbursed N76.98 billion to finance the acquisition and installation of critical medical equipment as well as the expansion of production lines in various pharmaceutical companies across the country.

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“The Central Bank of Nigeria is also supporting a number of research and development initiatives in the health sector. In all, a total of N233 billion in grants has been disbursed.

“In our Economic Sustainability Plan, designed to mitigate and take advantage of the consequences of the pandemic. One of the cross-cutting issues identified for action was the development of Nigeria’s capacity to become Africa’s hub for the manufacture of generic drugs.”

Osinbajo emphasized government’s commitment in supporting pharmaceutical and research agencies to develop and manufacture vaccines locally, and so enhance Nigeria’s domestic pharmaceutical capacity.

“In his Independence Day speech, the President also noted that the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority is raising a $200 million fund for this initiative that will complement the Central Bank of Nigeria’s ongoing N85 billion Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme to support local researchers in the development of vaccines and drugs to combat communicable and non-communicable diseases, including COVID-19,” the Vice President restated.

He explained that Nigeria’s existing public health infrastructure was crucial in helping the country respond effectively to the global pandemic.

“The Ebola outbreak of 2014 and our ongoing battle with Lassa fever and our successes with polio eradication helped us to tighten our epidemic contingency plans, strengthen our emergency coordination and surveillance capacities, and also to invest in public health laboratories,” he asserted.

Also, he recalled that during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, between 2014 to 2016, “the first case in Nigeria was confirmed and sequenced at the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), The Center was also instrumental to containing the epidemic in the sub-region by the development of a 15-minute Rapid Diagnostics. This method was approved by the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration, FDA of the US government.

“One of the key lessons we learned from our response to the Ebola outbreak was the need to build systems in ‘peace time’ that can be used during outbreaks. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) which was founded in 2011 was made an independent government agency in 2018 as we prioritised the strengthening of our public health infrastructure… it is evident that the NCDC is one of the best prepared and resourced, at least in Africa.”

He also acknowledged the impressive work of the ACEGID, at Redeemers University in Ede, Osun State Nigeria. The ACEGID team led by Prof. Christian Happi analysed the sample of the first COVID-19 case in Nigeria, and sub-Saharan Africa.

In recognition of the work of Nigerian scientists by international bodies, Prof. Osinbajo added that, “Professor Happi and his team have also produced a ground breaking rapid test, certified by the Food and Drug Administration, FDA of the US government. It costs around $3, much less than Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests. In addition, the test does not require highly equipped laboratories that tend to be too expensive. But more remarkably they are developing a Nigerian anti-Covid vaccine.”