The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has announced its intention to develop a framework under which grants and other long term facilities would be made available to Nigerian researchers for exploration of local solution to coronavirus disease burden. The apex bank’s pronouncement came on the heels of appeals by pharmacists in Nigeria to authorities in government for increased funding for research in order to achieve the development of a strong and robust healthcare system in the country. CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele who made his organisation’s decision known during the inauguration of ThisDay Dome as COVID-19 Testing, Tracing and Treatment Centre, in Abuja recently also challenged Nigerian scientists at home and in the diaspora to go back to their laboratories and develop a Nigerian vaccine for the deadly disease
“The CBN is developing a framework under which grants and long term facilities will be provided to researchers, science institutions and biotechnology firms to develop the Nigerian Vaccine. “Once validated by the Health Authorities, the CBN will step in and do the needful for the sake of over 200 million Nigerians now confronted by COVID-19.’’Emefiele said. According to him the inability of experts to accurately predict the extent to which the coronavirus could spread, and how long it would last, requires that ‘’we build sufficient capacity within our health system in order to contain the spread of the virus, state by state, city by city and preserve the lives of vulnerable Nigerians.” President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, who made the appeal recently in Lagos through a press release he issued to mark the World Malaria Day insists that adequate funding for research and development remained the imperative option for home grown solutions to numerous challenges in health sector.
He noted that Nigeria needed improved budgetary allocations and investment in health infrastructure especially in the area of research and development in order to withstand pressure of any pandemic such as COVID-19. According to him the widening gaps in funding of research and development in the health sector amid dwindling fortunes from international donors’ places the country in a precarious state to effectively eliminate myriads of disease burdens prevalent in the country. “As in previous years, the United States of America (USA) was the largest international source of malaria financing, providing US$ 1.0 billion (37 per cent) in 2018. Highest individual donors like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are also Americans.
He described the COVID-19 pandemic as a ‘drama rehearsal of the worst to come,’ even as he argued that Most world leaders today are more nationalistic than globally oriented in handling the deadly disease challenges. “Several countries shot their doors to export of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) within the pandemic. “America has threatened to halt her part of WHO funding of about 12 per cent of WHO’s annual spending. We need to get to work now. We cannot continue to depend on hand outs.” He said The PSN boss remarked that malaria is an age-long disease arising out of under development and poverty and however, regretted that there is no vaccine for it, and vaccine intervention may not be the priority of the western nations.
Ohuabunwa said: ‘’RTS, S/AS01 (RTS, S) is the first and, to date, the only vaccine that shows it can significantly reduce malaria, and life-threatening severe malaria, in young African children. The clinical trial is yet to come to Nigeria. “While we commend the proactive initiative of the CBN for the 100 Billion Pharma industry intervention funds, and hope for a timely disbursement devoid of unnecessary bureaucracies, we note that there are still a lot of gaps in funding Research and development.” Speaking with a sense of optimism, Ohuabunwa said the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and the Schools of Pharmacy in Nigeria have all it takes to make the country a hub for APIs but he regretted that they are grossly underfunded.
He further said that unless the country take charge of malaria interventions, elimination and eradication of the disease may not be achieved in the nearest future. The PSN helmsman recommended for deliberate attention to be paid to the community pharmacists who provide over 60 per cent of the malaria interventions in the country. He also urged the government to structure single digit, less encumbered loans to assist the business aspect of the practice to improve availability and access to medicines, noting: “It is a core responsibility of government to ensure affordable pharmaceutical care for its citizens. “Drugs are lifesaving special commodities and should not be allowed to compete with luxury items for high interest loans. “Malaria rapid test kits should be dropped at community pharmacies for free testing of patients prior to commencement of chemotherapy,” Ohuabunwa said. He assured that PSN through her technical groups would continue to invest in the capacity development of pharmacists for delivery of world class pharmaceutical care to consumers of healthcare in Nigeria.
By Chigbu Nwaobia