By Kemi Akintokun and Vivian Ihechu
President Muhammadu Buhari says his administration will invest in and support pharmaceutical and research agencies to developed vaccines for COVID-19 locally.
Delivering his Independence Day broadcast to mark Nigeria at 61 on Friday, Buhari said that this had become necessary because of global inequity in access to vaccines.
“We must act now to accelerate equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. This is the message I conveyed to the international community in New York last week.
“As we push to source vaccines for our immediate needs, we shall invest more to support our pharmaceutical and research agencies to come up with ideas for locally developed vaccines.
“Should another pandemic arise in the future our question is simple: will Nigeria be ready?’’
Buhari said that he had directed the Federal Ministries of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Health, Education and Science and Technology to work with Nigerian and international pharmaceutical companies and research organisations to boost Nigeria’s domestic pharmaceutical capacity.
He disclosed that the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority was raising $200 million fund for the initiative.
According to him, this will complement the Central Bank of Nigeria’s ongoing N85 billion Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme.
The initiative is to support local researchers in the development of vaccines and drugs to combat communicable and non-communicable diseases, including COVID-19.
The president said, however, that in spite of the global inequity in access to vaccines, the government of Nigeria had continued to explore available options to ensure that Nigerians had free access to safe and effective vaccines.
“Some five million vaccine doses have been administered to Nigerians through efforts led by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency.
“We will continue to explore options for purchase or acquisition of vaccines such as through COVAX and the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust.
“I will take this opportunity to remind the global community that the current state of access to COVID-19 vaccines is unacceptable.
“We cannot afford a situation where a handful of countries keep the global vaccine supply to themselves at the expense of other nations.’’
The president said that the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted negatively on initial plans for 2020.
“Our original priorities for 2020 were to continue stabilising our economy, following the deep recession while restoring peace in areas confronted with security challenges.
“ But the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on all nations meant we needed to shift gears and re-strategise.
“Nigerians came together as one to fight COVID-19.
“It is by this attitude and the special grace of God that we have continued to survive the pandemic as a nation and indeed, provide leadership and example at regional and international levels.’’
Buhari was thankful that the “doomsday scenario’’ predicted for our country never came even as the Delta variant continues to spread.
According to him, the government has built the capacity needed to respond now and in the future.
Buhari appealed to Nigerians not to take COVID lightly, advising them to adhere to public health and social measures required to wade off the virus.
“Put your mask on and get vaccinated. We can control this pandemic but it requires effort on everybody’s part.
“The investments we made in response to COVID-19 will also serve our country to tackle any future disease outbreaks or pandemics,’’ he said.
Nigeria marks Oct. 1 as its independence day, having been colonized previously by Britain which granted independence to the West African country on Oct.1, 1960. (NAN)