After a lengthy two-day deliberation, the 2021 National Council on Health (NCH) conference concluded Friday with a resolve for a deliberate investment on Nigeria’s health security starting with drawing support for pharmaceutical and research agencies to produce locally developed vaccines.
The annual event, which came amid rising concerns over the detection of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus in Nigeria, centred on Nigeria’s fight against the pandemic, lessons learnt and the way forward for the prevention of infectious diseases in the country.
Organised by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) and held both virtually and physically in in the Federal Capital Territory between Thursday and Friday, the theme of this year’s NCH meeting was “The Journey to Attaining Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Applying Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic Towards Building A Resilient National Health System.”
While Nigeria, like most African countries, has not suffered from the worst effects of the pandemic unlike its European and American counterparts, the country hasn’t been entirely free of the socio-economic challenges associated with the pandemic.
Global health security aims to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats. In practice, this is limited to specific activities, including strengthening surveillance systems and improving risk communication.
But health officials and experts at the event opined that global health security alone simply is not enough.
They said the experience with COVID-19 suggests that hyper-focusing on infectious disease control often derails targets and priorities on other health challenges such as HIV, Malaria, Tuberculosis, noting that the Nigerian health system is chronically underfunded, disjointed, and inequitable.
Local vaccine production
The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, in his opening remarks on Friday at the meeting, gave an update on various steps the Federal Government is taking on local vaccine production in the country.
The minister noted that the vaccines to be produced are not just for COVID-19, but for other infectious diseases and perhaps future epidemics.
He also said he would provide the Council details of the investment in local vaccine production, the progress and challenges thus far.
Mr Ehanire stated that as the country responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigerians must not believe that the pandemic is over.
He added that the detection of the Omicron variant should teach anyone that the virus keeps surprising the world.
“We must not let down our guards. We must continue with our non-pharmaceutical interventions, the public health measures that are advised. We can’t do away with them. They are the most secure and the cheapest ways to protect ourselves and our loved ones,” Mr Ehanire said.
The Minister further disclosed that the government is preparing to build one oxygen production plant in every state, while two would be in Lagos because of its high demand and one in the FCT.
“Oxygen should be available even at the primary healthcare centres, not just for COVID-19 but for other health emergencies,” he added.
Also speaking, a former health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, highlighted the need for a multi-sectoral approach for the success in vaccine production in the country.
Mr Chukwu said Nigeria should emulate the progress India has made as both countries share similar demographics.
He said even before the COVID-19 pandemic, India was producing 50 per cent of the world’s needs for vaccines.
According to the Minister of State for Health, Olorunnimbe Mamora, Africa has suffered so much in terms of COVID-19 vaccines distributions.
Mr Mamora said the vaccine distributions have been very low for obvious reasons, adding that it was time for the country to come together and start manufacturing the vaccines by itself, given the global inequity in the COVID-19 vaccine distributions.
“We are sure that the United Nations’ Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and others on the global stage can play a critical role in this,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ngozi Azodoh, director, Health Planning Research and Statistics, FMOH, said the pandemic had been a turning point not just in the health sector, but in every sector of human existence.
Ms Azodoh added that as part of the ministry’s efforts to ensure that Nigeria comes out top during the pandemic, it had been looking at strengthening the systems and structure that support the health sector in the country.
“One of those areas which is key is local vaccine manufacturing.
“This is a special session on the NC, which the honorable minister has put together to leverage the visit of the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, to again have a conversation around the health security for the country,” she added.
Health security as an investment
At the meeting, there were calls for national leaders and actors to urgently consider strategies to raise the bar for health security financing and accountability mechanisms for coordinated, well-planned responses.
Participants said Nigeria is particularly a hotbed of infectious diseases noting that the country’s tropical climate, population density, socioeconomic realities and high cross-border movement provide a conducive environment for such diseases to thrive.
Walter Mulombo, World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Nigeria, said health security should be seen as an investment and an enabler for economic development.
Mr Mulombo added that without good health, there is no security, development and human capital capable of driving any developmental agenda.
Akin Abayomi, the Lagos health commissioner, said investment in health security should be tailored towards local vaccine production.
“We have the market. It’s important we invest in local vaccine production. We can make Nigeria a hub for vaccines in Africa and thereby generate a lot of revenue,” he noted.
National Council on Health
The 2014 National Health Act recognises the NCH as the highest policy-making body within the Nigerian health sector.
The responsibilities of the NCH include the protection, promotion, improvement and maintenance of the health of the citizens of Nigeria and the formulation of policies.
The Council is also tasked with ensuring the delivery of basic health services to Nigerians.
Members of the council include federal health ministers and health commissioners of the 36 states of the federation among other relevant government health agencies and officials.
The council meets once every year to discuss the way forward for health system in the country.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...