Nigeria unarguably faces tremendous health challenges. Its health sector is one of the most underfunded among its peers – even in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to a UNICEF report on the nation’s health system, preventable or treatable infectious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, measles and HIV/AIDS account for more than 70 per cent of the estimated one million under-five deaths in Nigeria.
According to reports, an average of 20,000 Nigerians travel to India and other countries each year for medical attention due to the absence of a good healthcare system at home. Nigeria has an alarming amount of under-five child deaths and maternal mortality rates in Africa.
The outbreak of coronavirus pandemic that spread its deadly hands to Nigeria in 2020 and the attendant global lockdown/restriction of movement is one that exposed the fragility of Nigeria’s healthcare system and the urgent need to look inward and build a more robust and sustainable healthcare system. It was not too long for all (including public and private leaders who hitherto banked on their privilege to jet out of the country at the slightest illnesses) to realise that it was a deadly mistake not to have equipped the health sector back home.
At the throes of a ravaging COVID-19 pandemic that got the nation cut up between the devil and the deep blue sea, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) intervened! It was like water to a thirsty soul.
For the sake of over 200 million Nigerians who confronted by COVID-19, the central bank saw the need to intervene and build emergency health facilities to contain the spread of the virus that still ravages the world.
Speaking at the unveiling of the THISDAY Dome Testing, Tracing &Treatment Centre, Abuja on 12th May 2020, CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele noted that the inability to accurately predict the extent to which the corona virus could spread, and how long it would last, requires that Nigeria build sufficient capacity within its health system in order to contain the spread of the virus, state by state, city by city and preserve the lives of vulnerable Nigerians.
Mr Emefiele dispassionately galvanized the buy-in of the private sector operators and came up with what later became one of the best measures to treat victims of the virus and stop its rapid spread.
Emefiele told the country that Nigeria cannot wait for countries like the United Kingdom, United States of America and India to solve a pandemic for her, moreso that even the mighty also fell to the pandemic. “If we are to wait for foreign countries to develop their own vaccines, we will be the last in the queue to receive curative remedies for our teeming population,” the Mr Emefiele said, saying that the central bank challenge Nigerian scientists at home and in the diaspora to go back to their laboratories and develop a Nigerian vaccine.
Led by the CBN Government, the Nigerian private sector came together under the Coalition against COVID-19 (CA -COVID) to support the government, by raising funds to procure needed Isolation Centres, medical equipment, etc.
A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) had reveal that nearly 10 per cent of newborn deaths in the world occurs in Nigeria.
For Emefiele, a vibrant and innovative healthcare system is vital for the country’s national security, hence the need to encourage research and innovation in the treatment of health conditions for the Nigerian citizens.
As at the last count, the CA-COVID-19 had raised up to N30 billion to fund these initiatives. These donations are being used to build well equipped isolation centres across the 36 states of the federation.
The inability to effectively address the country’s numerous public health challenges has contributed to the persistent and high level of poverty and the weakness of the health system. And that’s what the CBN is determined to change.
For instance, as part of its policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CBN introduced the Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme (HSRDIS) to help strengthen the public healthcare system with innovative financing of research and development (R&D) in new and improved drugs, vaccines and diagnostics of infectious diseases in Nigeria.
Principally, the scheme is part of measures to support the growth of the Nigerian healthcare sector. According to Emefiele, the facility is aimed at strengthening the sector’s capacity to meet the increasing demand for healthcare products and services, particularly pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare value chain players intending to build or expand capacity.
Specifically, the HSRDIS was designed to trigger intense national R&D activities to develop a Nigerian vaccine, drugs and herbal medicines against the spread of COVID-19and any other communicable or non-communicable diseases through the provision of grants to biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies, institutions, researchers, and research institutes for the research and development of drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.
The scheme is intended to Reduce dependence on imported drug products (synthetic and herbal) and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in Nigeria and boost domestic manufacturing of critical drugs and vaccines to ensure their sustainable domestic supply and reduce the bulk manufacturing costs of the drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines in Nigeria.
Since inception of the programme, it has provided grants to pharmaceutical companies for research and development in new or revalidation of drug molecule, phytomedicines and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases (beyond COVID-19) in Nigeria.
At the last count, over 82 projects, valued at N85.89 billion, comprising 26 pharmaceutical and 56 medical projects across the country had been financed through the HSRDIS, according to official data.
So far, applications have been received for 222 projects valued at N177.424 billion. Out of the 222 projects, 91 projects, representing 40.99% of the total Healthcare Special Intervention Facility (HSIF) applications, valued at N97.444 billion, have been approved and disbursed as at May 28, 2021.
Of the approved HSIF projects, six projects valued at N12 billion were new (Greenfield), while 85 projects valued at N85.444 billion were expansionary (Brownfield).
In details, funding for Cancer Treatment Centers (two projects) valued at N2.436 billion; funding for funeral service (one project) valued at N0.075 billion; funding for six projects in medical laboratories/diagnostics valued at N4.958 billion; funding for 26 pharmaceuticals projects at N36.838 billion; funding for state government’s health institutions (12 projects) valued at N22.5 billion; funding for 42 private sector hospital/other healthcare services projects valued at N29.121 billion; funding for one local assembly of ambulance project valued at N1.5 billion and a dental service project valued at N0.016 billion.
Emefiele is optimistic that the CBN HSRDIS grant will offer an average Nigerian access to the much-needed vaccines and drugs for not just COVID-19, but other communicable or non-communicable diseases.
The CBN’s intervention in the health sector is now making the desired impact even to the confirmation of stakeholders in the industry. Recently, operators in the pharmaceutical subsector praised the CBN for N100 billion pharmaceutical intervention scheme for COVID-19, which they said, is impacting the sector.
Chairman, pharmaceutical manufacturers group of manufacturers association of Nigeria (PMG-Dr Fidelis Ayebae could not hide his excitement for the intervention when he recently said the intervention will huge impact in the pharmaceutical industry, acknowledging that any company that met the loan requirement got it. “We are happy with the CBN for the initiative and the way it was implemented. Members that are yet to access it are working with the commercial banks with whom they have a relationship to close up documentation gaps before moving on to CBN. Overall it is success in intervention. Some of the impact can already be seen in the financial performance of the early recipients of the loans,” Ayebae enthused.
Medical director, Merit Healthcare, Dr Lolu Ojo, could not agree less with Dr Ayebae when he testified to the fact that many companies have offers but funds were released late. Although, he said there were challenges, “the intervention fund has made huge impact.”