Tinubu and Pate
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate

A Patriotic Pursuit of Self-sufficiency in Vaccine Production

By Rahma Olamide Oladosu

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu came to office with a single-minded determination to ramp up local production of goods and services that Nigeria has comparative or competitive advantage in, as part of measures to reduce or stop importation, reduce the country’s over-reliance on foreign goods, strengthen the Naira, create jobs and boost Nigeria’s standing in the comity of nations.

A crucial, though underperforming, sector of the economy which the President’s plan focuses on is Health. And that informed the appointment of a world-class medial doctor and health governance expert, Professor Muhammad Ali Pate, as Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare.

In his inaugural press conference, Pate talked about medical industrialisation and the need to transform the sector from a consuming sector to one that can also contribute significantly to the purse of the nation.

He also lamented the fact that a lot, if not all of Nigeria’s pharmaceuticals come from abroad, saying that is neither acceptable nor sustainable for an economy that wants to stand on its feet and compete. He therefore noted that part of the President’s vision for the health sector was local production and self sufficiency in the production of drugs and other pharmaceuticals.

It was difficult if not impossible to disagree with the Minister. Given its large market size, Nigeria has the potential to become a major player in the manufacturing and supply chain for pharmaceutical products in Africa. However, 70 per cent of the pharmaceuticals we consume come from from China and India.

Basking in the euphoria of the recent progress report on the commencement of local drug production in Nigeria, the President and the Minister also took on the issue of local vaccine production in a robust and comprehensive manner recently when officials of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, came visiting. While the latter initiated the meeting, the former spoke extensively and passionately about his long term plan for vaccine availability in the country.

President Tinubu called on GAVI to collaborate with potential Nigerian vaccine manufacturers to ensure equitable access to life-saving vaccines for children and adults across the country.

The President told the GAVI delegation led by its Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Sania Nishtar, that partnership on local vaccine production has become necessary owing to the challenges faced by developing countries, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and other infectious disease outbreaks.

He said: “We have capable and talented people who can make the necessary contributions to the production of vaccines in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. We intend to contribute to the development of our healthcare programme, and we are committed to partnering with GAVI.

According to President Tinubu, his administration is focused on ensuring that no child is left behind when it comes to vaccination against preventable childhood diseases and the best way to achieve that is to pursue self-sustenance for Nigeria.

”GAVI’s commitment to humanity is recognised throughout the world, and we welcome the collaboration to save our children from preventable diseases,” he added.

Dr. Nishtar, in her remark, congratulated the Nigerian government on its innovative health-sector initiatives, including increasing budgetary allocations to health to 4.6 per cent and commitment to providing HPV vaccines for adolescent girls, among others.

Expressing GAVI’s readiness to collaborate with the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to leverage policy instruments and technical expertise to advance health outcomes, Dr. Nishtar announced GAVI’s commitment to providing $250 million grant support to Nigeria, as well as its dedication to addressing vaccine inequity in Africa through initiatives like the African Vaccine Manufacturing Accelerator, which has earmarked $1 billion to support the sustainable growth of Africa’s manufacturing base for vaccine production.

”Nigeria is a very special country. It is a very special country in Africa. It is a special country in the world, and it is a very special country for us in GAVI. There is a dictum in GAVI that says, ‘there is no success for GAVI without success in Nigeria,” she said.

Beyond the good intentions and brilliant speeches, the federal government may also try to revive the research institutes in the country which can aid local production of vaccines. The Federal Vaccine Research Institute is in Lagos, the National Veterinary Research Institute is in Plateau and there is also the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) in Abuja among others. If we inject life into these institutions, the youths who are willing and ready to venture into vaccine production can have a place to hone their skills and the collaboration with GAVI can have a formidable starting point.

The high vaccine demand in Africa means there is a ready market to explore if only Nigeria can be serious with local production that will take care of her own indigenous needs and also export to earn foreign exchange.

The African Pharmaceutical market was estimated at $20.7 billion in 2017, with imports accounting for 70%. This shows a significant opportunity for growing Nigeria’s export market in pharmaceuticals across the continent.

Strengthening local production will also boost job creation and wealth creation. Most importantly, it will address or put a stop to the embarrassment of relying on foreign organisations and other countries for vaccines to give Nigerians the way it happened during the Covid -19 outbreak.

The duo of President Tinubu and Professor Pate are no doubt taking the country’s health economy to unbelievable places. While the former has provided the vision, the latter is providing the action.