Governments at all levels have been advised to build systems and structures that would strengthen the country’s health and economic sectors.
The advice came after a one-week virtual conference on the pandemic organised between April 12 and 17 by the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy (NAPHARM) and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).
They applauded the collaboration between health and media professionals, saying it would motivate researchers to do more and give improved services.
According to them, government should scale up research and development through improved funding and better motivation of researchers with a view to promoting scientific research in the country.
Delivering her keynote address during the grand finale of week-long event with the theme, “COVID-19: The Lessons of this Pandemic and the Way Forward”, founder/CEO of JNC International Ltd., Clare Omatseye, said the pandemic blindsided the government and the private and public sectors, leading to economic and health distortions that now pose a big challenge to the country.
The former president of the Healthcare Federation of Nigeria noted that Nigeria was not prepared for COVID-19 despite what the country went through during previous epidemics such as Ebola in 2014.
As a result, she said, the country has been depending on vaccines from India, China, Russia and Europe, with a huge lack of adequate medical equipment.
Recounting her personal experience when she contracted the virus in January last year, Omatseye warned that COVID-19 is real and is not “a rich man’s disease,” just as she advised Nigerians to take preventive measures and present themselves for vaccination.
Urging the government and other stakeholders to take advantage of the lessons learnt from the pandemic, she quoted former prime minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, who said, “We must never let a crisis waste.”
She urged the government to invest more in the health and economic sectors, pointing out that Nigeria was worst hit by the pandemic because it is an importing country which depends solely on importation for drugs, raw materials, medical equipment and finished products from the US, UK, China and countries that were greatly affected by the virus.
She advocated a healthcare system that should be at the top of the agenda, as well as a structured way to pay for healthcare services and insurance.
She said it was an opportunity for healthcare and medical practitioners to make good use of the pandemic, urging them to ride the tide and take advantage of the crisis to get their voices heard and push healthcare to the top of the agenda where it should be.
On the way forward, she stressed the need to build a sustainable framework, set up effective communication system through the media, leverage on technology, encourage the need for more pharmacists, as well as engage the private sector and mobilise them for the production of vaccines the way other countries like China and India did.
She lamented the suspension of COVID-19 vaccination in Nigeria following the temporary ban on exports of AstraZeneca vaccine, observing that the country ought not to have waited till this time to come up with ways of producing vaccines.
Also, a communiqué issued at the end of the week-long programme with the theme, ‘COVID-19: Facts, Myths and Way Forward’, quoted NAPHARM president, Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, as saying the unique collaboration between the Academy, NGE and other organisations was to complement efforts of the government to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the people.
According to him, “Government needs to beam the searchlight on research and development in order to promote scientific research via improved funding and better motivation of researchers, and also enhance the capacity of the nation to tackle future epidemics speedily.”
Adelusi-Adeluyi said all pharmacists had key roles to play in the safety and health care of the people, especially individuals or families affected by the pandemic.
Also, the director-general of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the pandemic had resulted in the loss of over two million lives.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has so far taken over two million lives, destroyed livelihoods of hundreds of millions, fractured societies and broken the essence of ‘normal life’, with the cost to the global economy estimated at $28 trillion by 2025.”
According to him, the pandemic caused unprecedented humanitarian and economic crises to humankind.
Ihekweazu noted that the use of digital surveillance, training and protection of healthcare workers, strengthening risk communication by taking responsibility and establishment of the National COVID-19 research consortium would go a long way in addressing the challenges.
For his part, president of Nigeria Guild of Editors, Mr Isa Mustapha, stated that because the pandemic mainly affected the media, anything that can be done to make the situation better would gain the support of the media.
“The duty of journalists is to separate facts from myths and fictions and dig out facts by partnering with experts like pharmacists. I am sure the partnership will continue even after this event,” he stated.
Also, the special guest of honour and former national coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, commended the private sector for contributing its quota to the fight against the pandemic.
He noted that though public health measures require a change in behaviour – which is not readily gotten, vaccination is the way to go if the country must rapidly obvercome the pandemic.
Former chief executive officer of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Prof Tonnie Iredia, commended the leadership of the two professional bodies for coming up with such a brilliant programme which, he said, has fostered collaboration between the media and healthcare professionals.
Iredia who was the chairman of the occasion on the second day of the programme said: “As scientists come up with solutions to problems in the society, credible media experts can give all the necessary publicity required for the society to be informed. This gives motivation for researchers to do more and improve on services, as well as ensure the affordability of vaccines as this case is.
“Public enlightenment must always take the fore in national development discussion and the media are information experts and thus play a major role in information dissemination; thus, the collaboration of NAPHARM and NGE on this programme hits a major mark as this ensures the present pandemic is addressed. Controversies give way as the media propagates information to the public.”
President of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, commended journalists for educating the public on the pandemic.
Ohuabunwa, who was chairman of the day, said the topic was key in recognizing the efforts of scientists to bring relief to the general public even as they look to regulatory bodies for safety.
On her part, the director-general of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, said COVID-19 poses an unprecedented challenge to global health and has triggered the most severe economic shock since the Second World War.
She said, “The escalation of the COVID-19 crisis into a global pandemic highlights the need for collective action across policy fronts to supplement domestic action as well as tackle such trans-boundary challenges in the short and long term. NAFDAC adopted Business Continuity Plan (BCP), a part of an ongoing quality management system.
“This ensures continuity of activities at a minimum tolerable level and within identified timelines. The imminent arrival of vaccines has created an urgent demand for a strong coordinated multi-country approach to safety monitoring.”
The editor-in-chief of LEADERSHIP Group Ltd, Mr. Azubuike Ishiekwene, recalled a recently published research work carried out between January and March 2021 on the role of the media, particularly social media, in the fight against COVID-19.
According to him, the study showed a correlation between media reports and the attitude of the general population.
Also, the vice chancellor, Prince University, Abeokuta, Professor Peace Chinedum Babalola, spoke about how COVID-19 had overloaded the health facilities, causing the deaths of close and distant relatives and friends, as causing hardship, hunger and job losses, among others.
Speaking on the third day of the awareness programme, Professor Babalola recalled a conference meeting of the African Union she attended which focused on the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa.
She said it was revealed at the meeting that Africa imported 99 per cent of vaccines and produced only one per cent, hence the plan to move the figure from 99 per cent importation to 40 per cent and 60 per cent local manufacture of COVID-19 and other vaccines by 2040.
Prof Ike Uzochukwu of Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka, listed the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic to include lockdowns, travel restrictions, supply chain disruptions, and budgetary increases, amongst others.
Uzochukwu, who was the keynote speaker on the fourth day of the event, said due to the negative psychological effects of the pandemic, there was an increase in the level of drug addiction and abuse of tramadol, cannabis, benzodiazepines and codeine.
To former PSN president, Pharm Azubuike Okwor, health professionals are the unsung heroes of the pandemic.
He said the pandemic has a different face in Africa which calls for caution as the continent is not out of the woods yet. He pointed out that the potentialities in the average pharmacists had not yet been fully utilised.
NGE president, Mustapha Isah, said he was pleased by the outcome of the conference, even as he noted that journalists had an important role to play in helping citizens respond in safe, science-led ways to the pandemic. He promised more collaboration in future.
For his part, the Emir of Bungudu, Alhaji Hassan Bungudu, said efforts must be intensified to get information to the grassroots.
Dr. Lolu Ojo
Director of Programmes