COVID-19 Vaccine procurement: Nigeria faults Bill Gates

Bill Gates

By Ayorinde Oluokun/NAN

Contrary to the claims of the co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gates, Nigerian Government has said that investing in procurement of COVID-19 vaccine would not only help in the fight against the coronavirus, but will also help to strengthen the nation’s primary health care system in the long run.

Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director,  National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), said this on Friday in obvious response to assertion by Gates during an interview session with journalists last Tuesday.

The Bill and Melinda Gates co-founder had told the newsmen that Nigerian government should rather invest the funds it has set aside for procurement of COVID-19 to put the country’s primary health care system on a stronger footing.

“There is no doubt that the impact of putting money into the health system particularly the primary healthcare system will be very high in terms of saving children’s lives. Nigeria should not divert the very limited money that it has for health into trying to pay a high price for COVID-19 vaccines,” the Micrsoft founder said while responding to question on federal government’s plans to invest about N400 billion in procurement of vaccine.

The Microsoft founder also noted that Nigeria will get free vaccine from the COVAX facility initiative being coordinated by the GAVI Vaccine Alliance set up to ensure equitable access to to the COVID-19 vaccine and as such,  there is no need for the country to raise funds to procure the medical commodity.

But while disagreeing with Gates, Dr  Shuaib said the structure and skills that will be acquired by the country through the administration of COVID-19 vaccine will contribute to the strengthening of the nation’s healthcare system in the long run.

Shuaib, whose agency is in charge of vaccine administration and primary healthcare at the national level in Nigeria,  said this in an interview with News Agency of of Nigeria (NAN), in Abuja.

He noted for instance that engagement of additional healthcare workers to administer the vaccine would ensure non-disruption of routine services.

The NPHCDA boss also noted that the intensive capacity building and the acquisition of new and additional cold chain equipment will, on the other hand, contribute immensely to strengthening the PHC system.

Shuaib said long after the country had overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, the lessons learnt, new skills acquired by health workers and the infrastructural improvements would place the country in a better stead to manage future pandemics.

“This holistic approach to health system strengthening, which is driven through the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, is based on global standards and is in line with observations and recommendations recently made by our donors and development partners.

“Any idea or report that says this approach does not prioritise strengthening of the health system, stems from a lack of complete understanding of the health system and should be disregarded,” he said.

He added that while Nigeria  was appreciative of the global effort, through the COVAX facility, the delay in accessing vaccines meant that eligible countries would have to explore all channels, that could ensure fair prices, safe and effective vaccines for its populace.

“This is why the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, is also engaged with the African Union, through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

“The Federal Government is committed to securing the much-needed COVID-19 vaccines, taking into consideration safety, efficacy, cost and required logistics, to stop ongoing community transmission of the virus.

“As the country awaits the arrival of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccine in February, the PTF has called on State governments to put all the necessary logistics in place to ensure a successful vaccination exercise,” he said.

He added that traditional leaders in the country had pledged their support for the COVID-19 vaccine in the country, urging the Federal Government to procure adequate quantities of the vaccine to meet the needs of the country.

“His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto, has also urged Nigerians to get vaccinated as soon as safe, effective and NAFDAC certified vaccines are available,” he said.

The NPHCDA boss also urged Nigerians to disregard rumours about the safety of the vaccine, and rely only on information from credible sources for decision making.