The Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) has called on the United Kingdom (UK) to pull its weight behind vaccines equity for developing countries.
Mr Boss Mustapha, the PSC Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, made the call on Thursday in a Abuja.
Mustapha spoke when he received the UK Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mrs Gill Atkinson, who paid a courtesy visit to the PSC to foster partnership on COVID-19.
“I know there’s a growing demand for vaccine as every country is so much in a hurry to get its population vaccinated. But I think there should be some form of equity, because the level of of traffic between Nigeria and the United Kingdom I don’t think if you vaccinate 70 per cent of your population, if Nigeria is not properly taken care of.
“From Nigeria, you will stand the risk of getting our populations reinfected and vice versa. I believe you’ve seen on the pages of newspaper and you have heard on our news bulletins, the models attempted that we are putting in place to ensure that we deal with variants of concern, particularly those coming out of India, Turkey, and Brazil.
“Because of what we see what the science and data revealed, we believe that we needed to put in place, more mandatory protocol of at least mandatory quarantines of seven days with two tests in between to ensure that those variants do not become dominant in our country,” Mustapha explained.
The PSC chairman stressed that Oxygen was a major factor that accounted for fatalities in India and acknowledged how fragile Nigeria’s oxygen distribution network was a concern.
“The President has approved and I believe that we will be seeking for approval for the award of oxygen plants that the federal government is going to establish in all the 36 six states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
” This is all in order to ensure that our health infrastructure is strengthened for adventure, the third wave comes in very virulent and deadly manner like it has impacted India.
“We are preparing for that. Not only that, we are also using the opportunity of COVID-19 to reconfigure our health infrastructure and make it better and make it more enduring and sustainable for posterity,” he said.
Mustapha noted that the COVID-19 had come with a lot of negative effects. But in the same vein, it had provided an opportunity for both countries to remedy and regain lost grounds that they have not dealt with in the past.
“So I want to thank you for this opportunity of coming to share with us, to also have a perspective of what we are doing.
“We will continue to collaborate with the UK and we will continue to ensure that as much as possible, we will try to appropriate from our long standing relationship as two countries that have had a very long history of working together and sharing in the Commonwealth, and in our past historical relationships,” he stressed.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said that it had been a very open secret that the distribution of vaccines had not been quite equitable.
“Some countries have not had access as they should have. We are lucky to have access, first from the COVID facility where we are registered, and also from the African vaccine acquisition task team of the Africa union, chaired by the president of South Africa, we have also had a few bilateral agreements arrangements with India and others.
“But the situation with vaccines has not yet improved. We have the only vaccines we have received so far, which came from a serum Institute of India.
“We have sadly not received any vaccines at all from Europe and from America; we have not enjoyed the benefit of being able to see the hand of our friends. And I hope that that will change by now in our time of need,” he said.
Ehanire said that Nigeria is worried about the situation in India because the demographics between Nigeria and India are similar.
“We have the same fervor for religion, for elections or politics for gathering, for socialising, and because we study what happens internationally very closely. We see the pattern that unfolded in India, we are anxious about what would happen if we are afflicted with that situation here.
“So we are still looking for great help and support from our friends and partners in addressing this problem. And as the president of Nigeria mentioned at the recent summit in Paris, we call on countries that have large consignments of vaccines, to kindly share with those who do not have and also to support in our own ambition to be a vaccine producing country.
“We have a market for it. We have the population, the demand is here. We have the potentials in every way. And we also hope that you use your good office to support the need to develop and to have the technology transfer necessary that support to also establish our vaccine production capacity,” he appealed.
The minister noted that there were very many ways in which Nigeria and the UK have worked together historically, culturally, economically and that the COVID-19 produces another opportunity to continue to deepen that relationship that cooperation among countries.
In his part, the Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr Faisal Shuaib, said Nigeria is discussing the availability of vaccines from more developed countries.
“This critical window is important because this is when we need it, the vaccines to developing countries, that need to come yesterday. Most come today, but definitely should not exceed tomorrow.”
Shuaib stressed that a gift was most important when one needs it.
“We can imagine that in the next couple of months that the global supply of vaccines will probably get better. And at that point, if we get gifts from our friends, then they are not as valued as when we actually need them.
“I believe that I speak the mind of your friends in Nigeria, and when we say that any efforts towards fast tracking the availability of these donated vaccines to developing countries should be timely, there are conversations as well around the waiver of patents for the production of local production of vaccines.
“Again, we understand that the WTO will probably not take a decision about this until the month of June when the board meets.
“It is very very critical that as our friends, that the voice of the UK comes to bear to support the provision of waivers for countries such as Nigeria to actually produce the COVID-19 vaccines, including all of the infrastructure, the infrastructural support that is required to fast track our work,” he urged.
Earlier, Atkinson said that the UK had been a prime mover behind the development of COVAX and one of its main financial donors.
According to her, as we discussed the situation in India is such that no government would have had a choice but to use the vaccine, it was producing within its own country, but the spells mean that COVAX has been slower in its implementation for many of us.
She disclosed that the UK would be hosting the G7 summit in July 2021, noting that the prime minister would be pressing on the global vaccine availability.
“We’re not yet at a stage where I can make promises about what will happen in the short term, but we all know, I personally am acutely aware that no one is safe until I find what is safe.
“And this is an absolute priority for our prime minister to work with our friends and partners to make vaccines available as quickly as we can, because this is the fundamental way we all have to addressing the long term prospects for the health, not just of individual nations but for all.
“But, it is something we are addressing, not just the short term but the long term, is important. And part of our discussion today was how we can work together with Nigeria, to see if there are local solutions available,” she explained.
The envoy added that they would not be looking at just the COVID-19 vaccination but on the auto vaccines and their availability.
“The other thing I want to mention is the part of our joint cooperation work on identifying genetic changes here in Nigeria, where we work very closely with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), to support their technical expertise,” she added.