For almost three hours on Thursday, invited guests, journalists, and United States officials waited in Lagos for the arrival of a high ranking official of the Nigerian government.
It was the launch of the “Warehouse-in-a-box,” a US$5 million project by the U.S. Agency for International Development in collaboration with the Global Fund to fight Tuberculosis, AIDS, and Malaria.
The new medical warehouse is expected to provide ample space for safe, quality medications for Nigerians in need, as well as reduce the cost and time of transporting life-saving medications and equipment to all parts of Nigeria.
Yet, for more than two hours, Linus Awute, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Health kept all invited guests waiting.
“The (USAID) Country Director cannot start without the Permanent Secretary’s presence,” a ministry official explained to other members of staff.
After two hours and without the Permanent Secretary in sight, U.S. officials (including those who flew in from Abuja for the event), who had arrived a few minutes past 9 a.m. began granting interviews to journalists.
The event was billed to kick off at 9.30 a.m. But when Mr. Awute arrived at around noon, he did so in style.
His half a dozen convoy of vehicles, including a police escort van, snaked into the wet grounds of the Federal Medical Stores in Oshodi, Lagos, the site for the warehouse.
Mr. Awute neither explained the reason for his late coming, nor offered any apology.
The Lagos warehouse covers a surface area of 3,465 square meters with smooth, dust-free floors, temperature regulating systems, security systems, thermal insulated ceilings, and warehouse handling equipment such as shelving, electric reach stackers, and hand pallet movers.
The warehouse will double the storage capacity of existing warehouses and will make it easier for the Federal Ministry of Health to buy, store, track, and distribute medications to health care centres across Nigeria.
“A warehouse in a box is not the greatest name for the programme but what it is is a semi-prefabricated warehouse that we are working to build here in Lagos, which will be part of a national warehousing and distribution system that the government of Nigeria is building with our support for the country’s pharmaceutical supply chain,” said Michael Harvey, USAID Country Director.
“Once it’s up and running you have state of the art warehousing facilities so that we can make sure that women, children, and families in Nigeria get quality drugs in every facility in the country.
“This is being funded entirely by US government through the the President’s Emergency Programme For AIDS Relief, with one-third funding coming from the Global Funding For AIDS Relief.
“One of the challenges of the government in Nigeria is trying to ensure that you got reliable, quality drugs getting out to a country of this size. This is a 170 million people, 36 states, and the reality is the logistical challenge of trying to move drugs across that big a country is daunting.”
In February, construction began on a similar project in Abuja, at the Idu Industrial Area.
Dehab Ghebreab, Acting U.S. Consul General, said that the facility would be part of a network of warehouses the U.S. Government is supporting through the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
“I have Nigerian friends who tell me that getting everyday medicines can be difficult,” said Ms. Ghebreab.
“Clinics experience shortages and there are times when drugs are simply not available in public health facilities. We also hear about counterfeit medicines in general, and malaria medication in particular that is out there. And when people are desperate and cannot find medication, they buy what they can find.
“As friends of Nigeria, are working in close partnership with the Government of Nigeria at both the state and federal level, we doing all we can to ensure medicines are available everywhere, anytime.”
Over 7,000 health facilities across the country will receive commodities directly from the warehouses in Abuja and Lagos, according to the US government.
In his address, Mr. Awute, while admitting that storage of medicines had been a challenge to Nigeria, described the warehouse as the gains of President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent visit to the US.
Mr. Awute said that the stores in Lagos are the only central storage hub for drugs procured by the ministry, local and international agencies and non-governmental organizations who with the health ministry.
“The result of this project is going to equip us further in achieving a resilient health system that will be capable of responding to any situation of emergency,” said Mr. Awute.
“In healthcare, medicine and medical products are very important and its safety depends on hos you preserve. You have to be sure the drugs are safe. We don’t want to have occasion where we tolerate a chaotic drug distribution system.
“We want to be sure that the drugs donated or procured are safe and an efficient storage system is very crucial.”