Just as COVID-19 poses one of humanity’s greatest public health challenges, the pandemic provides an opportunity to ramp up public health infrastructure in Nigeria including the training of required experts even as governments should be doing more in the area of funding, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN.
Prof. Osinbajo stated this Thursday at a virtual meeting with top government officials and a group of Nigerian scientists who have been working on some of the public health dimensions of the pandemic.
The interaction which focused on Nigeria’s response and the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, featured presentations by one of Nigeria’s leading virologists, Prof. Oyewale Tomori; Infectious Diseases Scientist, Prof. Philip Onyebujoh, and the Director, African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Redeemer’s University, Prof. Christian Happi.
On the government side at the interaction were Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire; the Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr Aliyu Sani; and the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu.
This is the second interaction the Vice President is holding this week with professors and scientists on the medical and public health dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier on Tuesday, he met with a group of scientific investigators into the possible usefulness of Ivermectin medication in the treatment of COVID-19.
“We are at a point where we can gain tremendously as a people from this pandemic and a lot of what has been said will really help in putting this in perspective for us as government, so we can actually go out and resolve many of these problems and improve the environment for ourselves, and for the coming generations in particular,” Prof. Osinbajo said after listening to the experts at the over 2 hours long meeting.
Acknowledging the significance of the interaction with the scientists especially in providing valuable suggestions in addressing the country’s public health challenges, the Vice President noted that “this has been an inspiring intervention and discussion. I say inspiring because it is evident that our experts (whether they are directly engaged or not) are also paying attention not just to an unfolding public health problem but also the very many opportunities that this problem provides for us, the many opportunities to ramp up our public health capacities in various ways.”
Speaking further about leveraging the pandemic to address challenges in Nigeria’s public health infrastructure, Prof. Osinbajo added that “I think that we must focus on those opportunities and make the best of this situation.”
According to the Vice President, “I think that we must be talking now about local vaccine production, improving the training of laboratory scientists, and generally improving our capacity to respond in various ways.
“We must really focus on the opportunities that this period really gives us. What I have noticed is that unless something like this happens, we are very frequently relaxed and just hope for the best. I think we are in a position now where we can do a lot. In fact, there is the opportunity to do more in terms of government funding.”
“So, I think this is a major responsibility for us, the government, at this time, to really look at how we can, at least, do much better in terms of preparing young men and women for the challenges ahead. This point was also made about the quality of laboratory scientists and the quality of medical personnel and paramedics and all that.”
Earlier in his presentation, Prof. Tomori emphasized the need for authorities across different levels to leverage the opportunities created by the COVID-19 pandemic to overhaul the entirety of the country’s health system, noting that “we cannot let this pandemic go without starting the production of vaccines here in Nigeria”.
Stating his desire to help authorities resolve lingering issues in public health management, the renowned virologist noted that he has benefited so much from the country hence his love and desire to see a better society.
In the same vein, Prof. Happi emphasized the need for a closer collaboration between the public and private sectors to transform Nigeria’s health sector not only in providing the necessary infrastructure but in making possible the local manufacture of medical consumables.
On his part, Prof. Onyebujoh advocated improved coordination especially in the States in the areas of identification, isolation and clinical management of infected persons, for the country to effectively manage the current rate of transmission.
He added that the acquisition of sufficient doses of vaccines would also go a long way in containing the transmission rate, calling on authorities to put in place effective strategies to manage the storage, distribution and the actual vaccination of persons.
Addressing some of the concerns raised at the forum, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire said the country was expecting about 10 million doses of the COVID-19 viral vector vaccine.
The minister added that the 10 million doses is aside the 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine being expected in the country, noting that both types of the vaccine would be received, sometime in March 2020.
Dr Ehanire noted that the Federal Ministry of Health in collaboration with other stakeholders had already put in place mechanisms for the management of the vaccines, but emphasized that Federal Government was encouraging the use of IVERMECTIN, while expecting more research done on the prophylactic use of the medication.
While commending the efforts of Nigerian scientists, especially in proffering solutions to the management of the pandemic, the Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu said there was need for the strengthening of enforcement of COVID-19 protocols, calling on state governments to work more closely with the Federal Government. He also assured that public testing was available for free to Nigerians.
On his part, the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu disclosed that in ramping up testing across the country, the NCDC has adopted rapid testing. He said rapid testing was deployed for the last orientation programme of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
He said the NCDC in collaboration with stakeholders was currently working on building the capacity of medical personnel across the country as part of measures adopted by the Federal Government to boost the country’s infectious disease response capabilities.