NSSF needs N6.1b to vaccinate one million vulnerable Nigerians – Chinye-Nwoko
Unsatisfied that vaccine scarcity and inequity has left much of Nigeria unprotected against the raging COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria Solidarity Support Fund (NSSF), a not-for-profit organisation is stepping forward to vaccinate one million vulnerable Nigerians in underserved communities. Fejiro Chinye-Nwoko, NSSF General Manager, in a virtual chat with BusinessDay’s TEMITAYO AYETOTO explains why Nigerians with the means should support the initiative. Excerpts:
Why have you decided to pursue vaccine equity and why now?
Nigeria Solidarity Support Fund (NSSF) started in 2020 during the COVID-19 outbreak in June. NSSF was birthed by Global citizens and Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). Both organisations thought it fit that some form of support and response to the COVID-19 pandemic was needed.
This initiative is designed to be a multi-donor institution, gathering funds to support the Nigerian government for the post-COVID impact work in Nigeria. NSSF has three main objectives, which are supporting vulnerable populations, building health system resilience and reskilling the Nigerian youths.
However, for this year when we kick-started operations in May, we have seen what has happened globally that there was a lot of vaccine inequity and hesitancy. We thought of having the strategic focus of bridging the gap of vaccine inequity and vaccine hesitancy in Nigeria and we decided to commit to donating one million vaccines to Nigeria to help with the vaccine gap.
How much are you looking to raise and why one million Nigerians considering the scale of need at hand?
We are hoping to raise an amount that will cater for both the procurement of these vaccines as well as the distribution. Also, we target an amount that will aid the campaign for vaccine uptake.
Looking at that in totality, we are looking at raising N6.1 billion ($15 million) for the first stage of the work. We say the first stage because our commitment to donating one million doses is an initial stage for NSSF. We are a non-government organisation (NGO) and we are looking at it as what we can commit based on the resources that we think we can pull together this year.
Definitely, once we achieve this goal, we would scale up to achieve more. But this is an initial target by the NGO to supplement what the government has already received from the COVAX facility.
The pandemic has come and we are trying our best to get ahead of it, but we know that it is also an opportunity to prepare for the next pandemic
What strategies do you have to ensure that this goal is attained, considering the struggles that even the global facility for vaccine distribution, COVAX has faced in getting donations?
As a non-for-profit, these are the normal challenges where you need to garner stakeholders to contributing for a common good without a clear benefit to them. But in this case, fortunately, there is a benefit to everybody. Our strategy really is communicating how contributing to this cause either in cash or in-kind can and will also protect individuals, organisations and the country.
We know that the pandemic is a global problem and as long as there is a lot of movement and international trade, it will spread. The virus is one that mutates and in two months from now, we don’t even know what variants we would be talking about. So the more we linger in achieving herd immunity, the more we are at risk and the more we will be dependent on further booster doses.
The strategy is appealing to the human side of stakeholders to see that this is a common good that is very beneficial to you the individual that is donating.
Our strategy is to gather Nigerians to support Nigeria. COVAX is getting international stakeholders support Nigeria. We are looking internally. There are organisations working in Nigeria that can pool resources together and can support Nigeria. We are also looking up to Nigerians working in the diaspora that are willing to put their hands on the ground for their own country to make sure that we are not left behind.
Nigerians can do a lot more. In time past, they have shown that if we are in solidarity and speaking with one voice, we are really powerful. For example, with the Ebola case, we spoke in one voice, put our hands together and in no time we were able to overcome Ebola as Nigerians.
The greatest success to Ebola was Nigerians, not as much as international support. So our strategy is looking inwards and getting well-meaning Nigerians in the diaspora to assist and we are optimistic that our strategy will pay off.
Do you have any contractual arrangements with any manufacturer to get these vaccines?
NSSF was set up to assist the federal government with response to COVID-19. So we are working with the government to achieve this result. Again, we are not working in silos. So we are not going to have different storages or distribute separately. The NPHCDA, which is the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, has done a fantastic job with the distribution so far of the vaccines that have been donated.
So why reinvent the wheel? We are going to be working with the NPHCDA to use their resources in terms of storage and distribution. What we are doing in terms of procuring vaccines is that we are going to work with the government to explore various ways to get these vaccines asides from COVAX donations.
But we have a system that is really accountable. We are working with organisations such as the NSIA and we know the NSIA has a reputation of being accountable with funds. So we can assure the public that funds are going to be well accounted for.
We are working with PwC, our grant administrator, in terms of every grant that will go out of NSSF. PwC is going to organize a transparent process for that to happen. For monitoring and evaluation, we are working with KPMG to monitor how many vaccines we used the funds to procure and how they were distributed. So we have a very robust accountability mechanism to make sure that everybody’s heart is put to rest as to the purpose of use.
We are also providing technical support for the federal government where we are going to be highlighting states that have been underserved. Again, we are very focused on the vulnerable population to states that have very low uptake either because of resources or behavioural patterns and cultural beliefs against the vaccine.
Do you think that donor fatigue is not beginning to set in when it comes vaccine support, compared with the era of the pandemic outbreak when the private sector made a huge intervention?
There was a lot of response to the pandemic outbreak when it started last year and now it has moved from just a pandemic response to how to end the pandemic. We have agreed globally that the way to go is to get everyone vaccinated.
I think that for us as Nigerians, we are picking up the momentum. I would not say that we are fatigued. I think that what is happening is that we are picking up the momentum. We are coming on board with the realisation that vaccine is the way to end this pandemic. I want to assure you and use this opportunity to spotlight an event that is coming up in September, which is the Global Citizen live event on the 25th. It is an event that we will be rallying and we will be building up momentum again for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The idea is for donors both international and local to respond by pledging to COVID-19 vaccines and also to NSSF. We are bringing that momentum back. We were just catching up with the global world that the way to go is vaccination. Every other strategy has been palliative. Coming to that place has taken us a while but I think we will begin to see that momentum again.
Can you be specific about the categories of the population you are targeting?
We can look at vulnerability in different ways. There is a vulnerability with the virus and the strain. Right now, the current strain is even attacking people without pre-existing conditions compared with the strain in 2020. Also, we can look at vulnerability among people that do not have access to the vaccines.
We know that people in the city, where there are a lot more primary healthcare centres, there is more accessibility than the rural areas. There are some communities that don’t even have any primary health centre.
And as so they don’t even have a place for vaccination. That is also a vulnerability. We can also look at vulnerability in terms of gender. Women would be more involved in taking care of the household and would have less opportunity to go to a health centre and queue up for a vaccine. Working with our grant administrator, we will look at vulnerability along with all categories and attend to it as much as we can.
How do you intend to avoid giving vaccines to people who don’t need it, knowing that some states carry more burden of this virus than others?
If we juxtapose testing sites versus case reported, we can see a pattern that where there is more testing sites, you have more cases. We cannot use the data that we have solely to make decisions because we will definitely not have the right picture. There are places where there are no testing sites. How do you expect there to be cases? Cases are only recorded by testing.
So again, to equity and vulnerability, the fact that I’m not being tested doesn’t mean that I may not be exposed to the virus. We must look at it objectively.
You mentioned building resilient capacity in the healthcare sector as one of the core objectives of NSSF. Does NSSF have sustainability plans for pandemic preparedness?
Our objectives really focus on sustainability for the pandemic because we know that the pandemic has come and we are trying our best to get ahead of it. But we know that it is also an opportunity to prepare for the next pandemic. Our second objective is to strengthen the healthcare sector. That objective is supposed to target the primary healthcare system and strengthen it in terms of resources and policies. Our third objective relates directly to brain drain, which means skill. We have seen that in 2020 we needed more skilled manpower. Reskilling the youth, especially health workers is one of our focus areas and we have thought about innovative ways to do that. So while there is brain drain, we still have people living in Nigeria who can be converted from unskilled to skilled.
What’s your final word to your potential donors?
I would say the collaboration will help us end this pandemic faster. So join us, support us, come to our website and see what we are doing. We will definitely be accountable to you but don’t seat on the sideline. With you, we can achieve much more. We need everyone to come to the table with their ideas.