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Year after year, Nigeria’s health care system has been battling with different infectious diseases and outbreaks before the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2014, the spread of the Ebola virus to Nigeria was accompanied by a great deal of concern locally and internationally, enough to instigate the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
This was due to the outbreak affecting two of the largest complex megacities in the country—Lagos and Port Harcourt, with a combined population of over 30 million people–of which a significant proportion live in crowded slums and shanties with limited public health-supportive infrastructure.
Barely three months from when the first case was established, Nigeria had fulfilled the 42 days benchmark needed to be declared free of Ebola virus transmission by the WHO, with 20 cases and 8 deaths.
According to reports, the robust detection and response mechanisms deployed by all involved stakeholders ensured that the outbreak was effectively curtailed.
In the case of Lassa fever is a situation which is known to be associated closely with seasonal variations, peaking in the dry season and attributed to the migration of the rodent reservoirs into human settlements in search for food. This is one infectious disease that has caused emerging and re-emerging outbreaks in Nigeria
After it’s outbreak in 2017, Nigeria has been battling successive yellow fever outbreaks. The National Primary Health Care Development Agency(NPHCDA), with assistance from WHO has been applying and obtaining donated vaccines through the International Coordinating Group (ICG) on Vaccine Provision, established in 1997, to manage the provision of emergency vaccine supplies to countries during major outbreaks to conduct reactive vaccination campaigns in response to outbreaks.
These communicable diseases, some of which are vaccine preventable, have been managed over the years by the Nigeria ministry of health.
The subsequent recurrence of the outbreak of yellow fever in the country led to the introduction of the yellow fever vaccination to children and kept under control through routine immunization.
For other diseases such as monkeypox, smallpox, measles and other vaccines were proffered to reduce the rate of the outbreak in Nigeria despite lack of local vaccine production in the country.
When the COVID-19 broke out in 2020, and the need to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine to curtail the spread arose, Nigeria however due to lack of vaccine production facility became dependent on other countries for vaccines.
Producing local vaccine in Nigeria
Nigeria’s vaccine production laboratory was established in 1940; located at no 1, University Road, Yaba, Lagos.
The vaccine production centre was active for about six decades, between 1940 and 1991, producing large quantities of vaccines against smallpox, rabies, yellow fever for not only Nigeria, but neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Central Africa and a few other countries in Africa.
It was closed in 1991 by the federal government which said it wanted to reactivate and upgrade the facility. This is yet to be done until today.
The Federal Government of Nigeria in its effort on local vaccine production signed a Memorandum of Understanding on November 5th, 2020 with Biovaccine Nigeria Limited (BVNL) giving rise to a joint venture between the FG and May & Baker Nigeria Limited for the production of locally made vaccines.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire who signed the MOU on behalf of the Federal Government at the Federal Ministry of Health Conference Room, Abuja described the event as “a milestone in our national desire for self-reliance in vaccine production.”
Ehanire said the COVID-19 pandemic brought the attention of the country to the need for domestic production capabilities of vaccines among other commodities as well as self-sufficiency in other endeavors with efforts being made to support home grown manufacturing of health care commodities.
Similarly, in January 2021, Ehanire said the federal government released the sum of N10b for local vaccine production. at a Presidential Task Force (PTF) COVID-19 briefing in Abuja.
He said “While we are working to develop our own vaccines, Nigeria is exploring options for licensed production, in collaboration with recognised institutions. We are also exploring the option of local production of the vaccines in the country.”
Also, the Central Bank of Nigeria gave out a grant of N253.54m to five experts to also boost the production of a local vaccine
The governor, Godwin Emefiele, disclosed that 68 proposals out of the 286 submissions received by the body of experts, had been reviewed and evaluated with five proposals with significant merits valued at N253.54 million recommended by the experts for financing. He added that the recommended proposals also have the potential to enable the development of the Nigerian vaccine for COVID-19.
The Federal Government in the 2021 budget had allocated N5.84 billion to key agencies saddled with pharmaceutical research and vaccines development in Nigeria, this was in spite of the global rush for home-grown vaccines.
These agencies include the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba, National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRID) and the National Arbovirus and Vectors Research Centre (NAVRC), Enugu.
NAVRC has the lowest provision of N329.48 million.
Earlier in July 2021, The Minister of State for Health, Olorunnimbe Mamora, lamented the plight of Nigeria and many other African countries not having access to COVID-19 vaccines, despite their availability in developed countries.
Mamora however at that time gave a rising hope that Nigeria is focusing on producing locally made vaccine development to cater for the shortage of vaccines in the country.
He said Bio-Vaccine Nigeria Limited, a joint-venture between the Nigerian government and a private firm, is working on manufacturing vaccines for the country.
“We have every need to do that in light of what is happening in the global stage. Right now, a lot of countries in Africa and even Nigeria can’t have access to vaccines.
“We can only hope to get over that or we have our own manufacturing hub in Nigeria and that is what we are working towards achieving.” He said
But as at October 2021, despite Mamora’s claim that a manufacturing hub for vaccines will be available, Nigeria still continues to depend on other nations for vaccines.
Vaccine production in other countries
Globally, countries like China; United States of America, Russia, and the United Kingdom, have made breakthroughs with the COVID-19 vaccine.
The World Health Organization list of countries producing WHO prequalified vaccines are; Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Korea, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, USA
Other countries listed as producing COVID-19 vaccine but not of a WHO prequalified vaccines are; Iran, Sweden, Switzerland, Indonesia, Mexico, Serbia, Belgium
Meanwhile, a total of 11 countries are dominating the production of vaccines globally. They include; China, United States, Germany/Belgium, India, United Kingdom, Netherlands/Belgium, Russia, Switzerland, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa.
Also, eight countries are on the list of countries funding R&D of COVID-19 vaccines. The United States and Germany were listed as the top sources for R&D investment, putting some $2 billion and $1.5 billion into development, respectively.
The United Kingdom comes third on the funding list with just over $500 million while the EU has invested around $327 million. Even though the lion’s share of investment in the U.S. used public funding, some $2.17 billion, at least $62 million of philanthropy dollars have also been donated.
However, these figures compared Nigeria shows there’s a huge difference.
Neglect, insufficient funding delay production
A Renowned Virologist in Nigeria, Prof. Oyewale Tomori attributed the delay in Nigeria’s vaccine production to years of national neglect, insufficient funds, lack of focus and commitment amongst others.
Prof. Tomori noted that Nigeria is still dependent on other nations for vaccines due to failure to sustain the gains of the past.
He said Nigeria government has not provided the enabling environment for the efforts of virologists and researchers to come to fruition in the country.
“The same and current toxic environment that has affected the manufacturing sector is responsible. Add to that the low level of patriotism, and a national desire to import and consume products of other nations. All these have contributed to our failure to produce human vaccines locally, as we were doing in times past”
The reknowned Virologist also stated that the funds available to researchers and experts in the country are insufficient for local vaccine production in Nigeria.
“What has been provided is insufficient, and there are undue, unnecessary and diversionary obstacles in the legislative and administrative processes for disbursing even the little that has been earmarked for local vaccine production”
“We need to improve on the ease of doing business by at least removing the obstacles created by government regulations and processes. The issue is not in the regulations themselves, but in the deliberate obstacles created by those implementing and processing the regulations.
“For many of them, their self interests take precedence over NATIONAL interest. In addition, there must be easy access to favourable financing for local vaccine production.”
“When asked when Nigeria vaccine production would likely commence the Prof. Said ” Sincere efforts are now being made, especially with and by the private sector to ensure production in the next 3 to 5 years.”
Corruption within the sector
Speaking, Senior lecturer and Medical Virologist at the University of Lagos, Dr. AbdulAzeez Anjorin highlighted corruption by public officials and poor handling as responsible for delay in Nigeria’s vaccine production.
Dr. Anjorin says Nigeria used to be the center in West Africa serving other countries in vaccines but stopped due to poor handling.
“The country used to be the center in West Africa that served other countries in Western region and other sub saharan Africa but due to poor handling corruption, lack of infrastructural facilities, including power supply the production stopped even with the military interruption.”
Dr. Anjorin said the government needs to be ready to provide the necessary Infrastructural facilities to aid the production of vaccines in the country, adding that capable experts are available in the country who are up to the task.
Talking about funding for experts, Dr. Anjorin stated that the funds announced by the government were only made on paper and in the news only.
“We’ve been hearing it in the news, the CBN talking, TETFUND talking, but I can tell you those funds are not going to the right channels. They are just in the news only on paper.
“Tetfund has also been trying asking researchers to submit proposals but I can tell you that is not the way to go.”
The Virologists said the Federal Ministry of Health as well as TETFUND should put a call forward to the different universities in Nigeria where researchers are available as they need to be carried along.
Dr. Anjorin stated that fund announcements should be monitored to ensure they get into the right hand.
He said ” You know people talk about giants of Africa. I mean we’ve always been like that. Our yellow fever vaccine has been helping the whole of the African region and even to other environments in the world but unfortunately it is a moribound.
” I can tell you just the way we did for COVID-19, depending on the funds, the readiness of the government, the political will of the government. I can tell you about the production we can talk about a year, one and half years or up to two years.
“I think the government been ready with the necessary infrastructure, facilities, support and the political will. Within the twinkle of an eye something meaningful will definitely be done and Nigeria will be seen to be leading other nations just the way India and some other nations and other developing countries of the World are currently doing.”
“This OUTBREAK story was supported by Code for Africa’s WanaData program as part of the Data4COVID19 Africa Challenge hosted by l’Agence française de développement (AFD), Expertise France, and The GovLab”