Nigeria Prepared for Next Pandemic, Says Health Minister

The Federal Government of Nigeria is prepared for any pandemic, Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora, has said.

The minister said the West African country has learnt sufficiently from the Ebola and COVID-19 outbreaks and developed as well as equipped its health system and emergency response to respond to next pandemic.

“Our preparedness for the next pandemic not only starts now but it is already in progress,” Mamora said on Thursday as he set the tone for discussion at a virtual event with the theme ‘Nigeria and the next pandemic: preparedness, response and vaccine’. The event was organised by The Conversation Africa in partnership with PUNCH Media Foundation, amongst others.

Mamora joined other renowned health experts including Molecular Biologist at the Redeemer University, Prof Christian Happi; Executive Secretary, Nigerian Academy of Science, Dr. Doyin Odubanjo, Professor of Virology, Oyewale Tomori; Medical Microbiology Specialist, Prof Sade Ogunsola; President of the South African Medical Research Council, Prof Glenda Gray.

He said, “We were not as prepared as we would have loved at the beginning of the pandemic but the resources we had were based on previous investments in health security by NCDC (Nigeria Centre for Disease Control).

“The first set of laboratories to test for COVID-19 in Nigeria have been testing for Lassa Fever. The states where we have public health emergency centres had received support from NCDC between 2017 and 2019 to establish this.

“You will agree with me that we must do better in health security and the Federal Government of Nigeria has begun to work on this through the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund where the NCDC is expected to be provided with 2% of 5% of the funds earmarked for health emergencies.”

On preparedness for future pandemics based on the lessons learnt from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mamora said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented in several ways; it has affected lives, the economy of our country, travel and social interactions. These have required a complete redirection of our public health resources to fight one disease.

“While building during the pandemic has led to several milestones, there is no doubt that the world could have been a better prepared place if we invested more in pandemic preparedness.

“While building during the pandemic has led to several milestones, there is no doubt that the world could have been a better prepared place if we invested more in pandemic preparedness.

“Therefore, we are seizing this opportunity, this moment of destruction to build sustainable and resilient systems for health security in Nigeria.”

Continuing, he said, “The World Health Organisation estimates we face a pandemic threat every five years, so we must be better prepared and we have begun that process now.

“The pandemic has created a sense of urgency around vaccine development and manufacturing in the African region. In Nigeria, we are taking advantage of this opportunity to fully establish our capacity for vaccine manufacturing. We have been working closely with Bio Vaccines Nigeria Limited, a joint venture between the Federal Government of Nigeria and May and Baker Plc.

“We are strongly aligned with the Africa CDC (Centre for Disease Control) target that by 2040, Africa should move from manufacturing 1% of the vaccines it uses to manufacturing 60%. Our country has the market size and the commitment required for this.”

“Investing on preparedness is not just a wise choice, it is good thinking. We are learning from COVID-19 pandemic to build back better. The pandemic is not over yet but we will continue to learn lessons,” the health minister concluded.

Also speaking, Happi said it is risky for a country as populated as Nigeria not to have a vaccine manufacturing facility.

“It is dangerous for a country of 200 million people not to have vaccine production facility that will help the country to respond to pandemic management,” he said.

On her part, Ogunsola stressed on the need for funding and government’s support after academic and scientific researches and successes have been made in vaccine development.

Nigeria should be ashamed it is just building pandemic response –Tomori

Speaking also at the event, renowned virology expert with over 40 year-experience, Prof Oyewale Tomori, said Nigeria should be ashamed it is just building pandemic response.

He said, “We learnt lessons and forget them as fast as we learnt them. That is the first problem that we have. In other words, we are not learning anything because we forget them almost immediately.

“Each time we talk about the lessons of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, what followed it in 2015 and 2016 when we had Lassa and then it got worse in 2017 and 2018 and got worst in 2019.

“The longer the spaces between the epidemics, the more we forget what we learnt.

“The minister told us Nigeria has started building laboratories, we shouldn’t be building laboratories now, 60 years after independence. We should be ashamed of ourselves that when COVID-19 came, we were only had two laboratories and we are counting that as successes when we should be ashamed of it.”

Tomori emphasised that the Federal Government must sit up and not allow the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic lost on it.

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