Is Nigeria relying on private sector for Covid-19 procurement?

Although, Nigeria plans to vaccinate about 70 percent of its about 200 million in one year, considering the controversies trailing the order and purchase of the vaccines by the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), Nigeria’s vaccination plan seems unfeasible.

Till date, CACOVID, the private sector task force spearheaded by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in partnership with the Federal Government, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is not united in the action.

While BUA Group, a member of the steering committee of CACOVID, was trying to save the day by paying for one million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for Nigeria, due to the urgency demanded by the AFREXIM vaccine platform, that move did not go down well with some other members.

There has been media war on the issue since then.

Sadly, the development is impacting on the responsibility of CACOVID, which is pulling resources across industries to provide technical and operational support while providing funding and building advocacy through aggressive awareness drives.

But critics are querying the whole process of vaccine procurement. The vaccine deal, according to them, is a government to government or manufacturers thing and not private companies.

“Why is the Nigerian government not paying for the vaccines? BUA claimed that it had to pay for the one million doses because of the short time frame demanded for the payment as other organisations were reluctant to pay, but the government could have paid the money. There is something fishy and that is why other members of CACOVID are worried”, Emeka Onumah, a public analyst, said.

For Onumah, CACOVID has a fund controlled by the CBN, which all members are expected to pay into, including BUA, and the haste to pay for a huge amount expected to be shared by members is suspicious.

But Ayodele Obembe, a medical doctor with the Federal Medical Centre, Lagos, noted that BUA’s action should be commended because it was to save lives. “Let’s get the vaccines first, and start saving lives. It does not matter who is paying, after all, the billionaires made their money in Nigeria and it is time to truly give back”, Obembe said.

Recalling the statement made by Abdul Samad Rabiu, founder and chairman of BUA Group, James Ohiri, a pathologist, noted that it is not time to play politics with the lives of Nigerians.

“Like the BUA chairman said in a press statement issued on the reason the group paid for the vaccines, it is lives first and let us not play politics with lives. CACOVID should move on because there is a huge demand for the vaccines in Nigeria and more money for the purchase. Others can pay for the next batch”, he said.

Taking a critical look at the vaccine issue, Obembe said it should have been government fronting, while private sector support from behind for proper coordination and expected result.

But a more worrisome issue for him is the verification of the make of the vaccine to buy as some are more effective than others.

“There is Pfizer, which hoarded for western world and is more expensive. There is AstraZeneca, which South Africa tried and decried that it is less effective at combating some variants of Covid-19 virus and another make by the University of Oxford. We need to confirm the make that works for us before buying the wrong ones,” he urged.

Like Faisal Shuaib, director general, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, said in an interview, Nigeria has to work for other options besides Covax for vaccines supplies if it must vaccinate about 70 percent of its population in the long run.

Though Nigeria has acquired three ultra-cold freezers to keep the vaccines at the required temperature, according to Shuaib, critics insist that the government should invest in vaccines that are easier to store.

Sadly, considering the shenanigans surrounding the procurement, the vaccines may not arrive as planned.

Again, critics think that government will not disclose budget for vaccine procurement, but will rather wait until private sector spends a lot on it, like fund for the Covid-19 lockdown palliatives, and then declare billions, which cannot be accounted for.

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