The Coronavirus (COVID-19), soon after breaking out in Wuhan China, did not waste time in taking over, not just Nigerian public space, but also international affairs ranging from the economy, sports and diplomatic relations. In panic, nations began to shut themselves out and down as part of effort to mitigate the harmful effects of the disease.
Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele, thought through the situation and rightly stated that while the country is genuinely worried about the devastating impact of the pandemic, it was important to acknowledge that Nigeria’s ability to restore the growth of her economy was and still is dependent on how the government and people address the public health crisis engendered by it.
It is in realization of this fact that the CBN under his leadership launched a N100 billion healthcare intervention fund. The idea, noble in the opinion of this newspaper, was to ensure that practitioners in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors are able to access finance at single digit rate through this fund. The stated objective is to improve the capacity of the nation’s health system to address emerging public health challenges.
The CBN’s intervention is hinged on a felt need to reduce the tendency on the part of Nigerians to seek medical help abroad in what is euphemistically known as medical tourism, a habit that had become a scourge on the nation’s effort to conserve foreign exchange.
Also, it is intended to provide long-term, low cost finances for healthcare infrastructure development that would evolve into world class healthcare facilities in the country.
That the interest rate on this facility is within a single digit range of not less than five per cent and not more than nine per cent, is a clear indication that it will catalyze and improve access to affordable credit by indigenous pharmaceutical companies to expand their operations and comply with the World Health Organization’s Good Manufacturing Practices (WHO GMP).
Furthermore, it is the intendment of the apex bank to use the facility to support the provision of shared services through one-stop healthcare solution to enhance competition and reduce the cost of healthcare delivery in the country.
It is also noteworthy that the apex bank is out to encourage greater research and development in Nigeria of drugs and vaccines that would help prevent the spread of the virus. There is already a framework in progress under which grants and long term facilities will be provided to researchers, science institutions and biotechnology firms to develop the Nigerian Vaccine.
An expert in Pharmacy recently confirmed that some pharmaceutical companies are in the process of accessing this facility which will enhance the research component of their operations. It is after successes are recorded and validated by the Health Authorities through clinical trials that the CBN will step in and do the needful as part of this whole package aimed at safeguarding the nation and her citizens from the rampaging pandemic.
In the opinion of this expert, that is the good way to go if the nation must play its role within the global plan to contain COVID-19 and side-step past mistakes in the management of such facilities put in place to tackle emergent health challenges.
What is comforting, in our view, is the CBN’s appreciation of the enormity of the problem at hand which has made it aware of the pertinence of involving other interest groups. Without being prodded, it understood that it may not be able to actualize the laudable objective on its own. That may have influenced its decision to bring on board private sector players under a coalition against the pandemic. Though inspired by it, the apex bank ceded the operation of the coalition to the private sector which, based on a recent media outing, is deploying the fund so far realized and which is believed to be worth well over N27 billion to stated causes.
As proved by what is already on ground, the resources put together by the coalition is actually being deployed to mobilizing even further private sector thought leadership which aims at raising public awareness and buy-in for COVID-19 prevention while at the same time providing direct support to strengthen the healthcare sector’s capacity to respond to the crisis.
In the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), there is emerging evidence that the private sector, driven by the CBN, has been able to procure needed Isolation centres, medical equipment and is in the process of providing close to 4,000 hospital beds across the country which will serve as a significant boost towards the efforts at containing the spread of COVID-19.
Again, we commend the apex bank and corporate Nigeria for accepting that the era of government alone is gone for good. It is from this perspective that we worry about the sustainability of ongoing collaboration that has the potential to make the nation’s healthcare system internationally competitive.
This worry stems from past tendencies towards policy inconsistencies if not outright somersaults as soon as the originator leaves the scene. It is our fervent hope that this will endure and outlive administrations.