BY DOYIN OJOSIPE,
One of the lessons learnt at the instance of the Meningitis C outbreak in Nigeria was the need for emergency health preparedness.
Holding series of meetings, Stakeholders sang the same song; it wasn’t the first time Nigeria will experience (an) outbreak of diseases but the meningitis C emergence was different. It was a new strain; spreading like wild fire, engulfing many other states, Nigerians watched in sheer disbelief as (the) death toll (rose rapidly) was fast on the rise, (and the) number of cases reported everyday sent shivers down the spine of all.
No, this isn’t a dream, it isn’t Ebola but as at June 2017, it had killed over 1000 Nigerians, over 13,000 cases had been captured while spreading to about 23 states as reported by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC).
The continuous leap of destruction wrought by the new disease further undermined the response of the federal government, which equally got Nigerians apprehensive on whether a way of escape (was) is anytime soon.
At such period, the questions that came to mind was why the spread? Why the increased cases and why the continuous deaths? Where did we go wrong? Are there no vaccines? What could be the challenges? It was at this point that Nigerians learnt of what they feared most! The reality!
The reality is, it’s a new strain of meningitis; the Country does not manufacture vaccines but only imports vaccines from countries where it would have deposited some money, six months before production and supply. And the truth but the worst is that Nigeria faces shortage of vaccines to tackle the disease, hence the continuous menace.
Finally government assents to local production of vaccines
On May 31st, 2017, the federal government announced its partnership with May & Baker after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to commence local production of vaccines.
Briefing the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in Abuja, the Health Minister, Prof Isaac Adewole said, “a company called Bio-vaccines Ltd, to be jointly owned by Federal Government of Nigeria and May &Baker Plc. has been established.”
He further explained that while the company’s board will be made up of seven Directors, four from May and Baker and three from federal government,a government appointee who must be an expert in this field would head the Board.
“Biovaccines is a full private company and will source and generate its funds privately. The company would be expected to meet the nation’s basic vaccines requirements in the next four years,” he added.
Vaccine advocates have said that it’s been over three decades since Nigeria locally produced vaccines; theyfurther said that they have spent over 20 years of their lives pleading with the federal government to resume production of vaccines.
Following historical records, the last time Nigeria manufactured vaccines was in 1948, after the production of vaccines used in tackling Smallpox, Rabies and Yellow fever.
Nigeria has since then relied on importation of vaccines to cater for her ever-increasing population.
A foremost Advocate for adequate vaccine supply, who is also the Chairman of the National Immunization Financing Task Team (NIFT), Dr Ben Anyene said that local production of vaccine at the moment will not only save Nigeria the huge cost of securing vaccines from foreign countries but will also satisfy local needs as and when due.
“About 7.5 million children are born in Nigeria every year; so when importing vaccines to immunize all of them, it’s a huge cost to the system, meanwhile you are not only paying for logistics, you are equally paying for services. But if we start to manufacture vaccines in Nigeria, first of all, we will satisfy our local needs at local costs so it saves you foreign exchange, it creates employment, people will be employed,and this in turn creates wealth”, he said.
Anyene further explained that with local vaccine production, Nigeria would have healthy children who will not be sick due to one infection or the other, adding that monies will be saved from avoidable treatment.
He added, “if you spend $1 to vaccinate a child, you get direct returns of $16 and indirect returns of $44, what else can give you that kind of returns. The child will be healthy too; no diarrhea, no infections, and no tetanus.
“Vaccine is the most effective public health intervention any where in the world. Hope we know that for the past three years, the government has been borrowing money to pay for vaccines, and we cannot be big for nothing. As big as we are, we cannot pay for vaccines. So if World Bank money doesn’t come, the thing collapses. It is not proper. I’m an advocate, I have been advocating for this thing for over 20 years.”
The Managing Director of May & Baker, Mr. NnamdiOkafor, who doubles as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company, said while the company submitted its proposal in 2004 to resuscitate the dilapidating Federal Vaccines Production Laboratory in Yaba, it took 13 years to arrive at the agreement.
He further said, “the selection of May & Baker as Government partner on this project did not happen overnight. May & Baker approached the government in the late ‘90s and then presented its first proposal in 2004 for the rehabilitation of the moribund Federal Vaccines Production Laboratory, which, at that time, was a desolate and deteriorated facility for over 13 years.”
“In policy, that decision was taken in 2005 by the Government of President OlusegunObasanjo and endorsed by the four successive Ministers of Health (ProfessorsEyitayoLambo, Adenike Grange, late BabatundeOsotimehin and OnyebuchiChukwu) before the current Minister. What the Federal Executive council did was to ratify the revised and renewed 2007 Joint Venture Agreement, and this decision preceded the Public Procurement Act 2007 which prescribed open competitive bidding,” he reiterated.
As Global Funds Dwindles…
In the next five years, the Global Access for Vaccine Immunization (GAVI) will finally withdraw its grants to Nigeria. This development left Nigerians wandering how the federal government seeks to close up funding gaps that would be created in the process. The commencement of local production of major vaccines in Nigeria is a milestone achievement for Nigeria.