Non-communicable diseases killing more people than before — WHO*GOC, 6 Div, General Irefin dies of COVID-19 complications

*Army cancels annual conference, urges PSOs, GOCs, others to self-isolate

*Nigeria to get COVID-19 vaccine January 2021, says Okonjo-Iweala

By Kingsley Omonobi

The General  Officer Commanding 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Major General Olu Irefin, has died of complications from COVID-19.

The GOC was attending the annual Chief of Army Staff Conference in Abuja before he took ill and died.

General Irefin’s death came at a time former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, assured Nigeria and other African countries of access to COVID-19 vaccines from the end of January through the first quarter of 2021.

This is just as the World Health Organisation, WHO,  said yesterday that Africa would need at least $9bn to procure and distribute 1.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

The General’s death compelled cancellation of the conference by the Army which asked participants, including Principal Staff Officers, GOCs, Commandants of Army Institutions, Theatre Commanders, Corps Commanders and other Formation Commanders, to go into isolation for 14 days.

While announcing the cancellation of the remaining parts of the annual conference yesterday, the Army authorities said the unfortunate incident of General Irefin testing positive to coronavirus took place on Tuesday, December 8, 2020.

A statement by Brigadier General Sagir Musa, Acting Director, Army Public Relations said:  “The Nigerian Army wishes to inform members of the public that due to resurgence of COVID-19 pandemic in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, in what appears to be a second wave of infection cycle and the unfortunate incident on Tuesday, December 8,  2020, where  an officer participating in the ongoing Chief of Army Staff’s Annual Conference 2020 here in Abuja tested positive to COVID 19, the remaining activities of the conference have, therefore, been immediately cancelled.

“All the participants have been mandated to immediately proceed on self-isolation in line with the Federal Government’s protocol for COVID 19 and to prevent any further spread of the disease.

“All inconveniences are hereby regretted please. Thanks for your usual understanding and cooperation ”.

On several occasions, Major General Irefin, who hails from Kogi State, had served as the Garrison Commander, Defence Headquarters, Abuja; and General Officer Commanding 81 division, Nigerian Army, Lagos before his posting as GOC 6 division.

In a related development, Former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has assured Nigeria and other African countries of access to COVID-19 vaccines from the end of January through the first quarter of 2021.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed this in a statement issued yesterday, after the former minister’s close-door meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffery Onyeama, in Abuja on Wednesday.

“As long as one person has it in the world, no one is safe. And that is why poorer countries, lower-middle-income countries like Nigeria need to get it as quickly as possible,” she was quoted as saying. Okonjo-Iweala is currently the African Union Special Envoy on mobilising international economic support for the continental fight against COVID-19 and Nigeria’s candidate for the Office of the Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

She disclosed that the international initiative involved the World Health Organisation, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, GAVI, and the international community, to get vaccines delivered to developing and poorer countries, in an affordable manner and quickly.

According to her, the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca are currently being negotiated so that poor countries don’t have to stand in a queue behind rich countries.

The former finance minister described Africans as blessed, for not having the same incidence rate of COVID-19 as other continents, but warned African nations against complacency.

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She recalled that a platform, called the COVAX facility, had been developed with 186 countries on board, saying that the side interested in serving the poor countries had 92 countries, for which resources had been raised to try and get the vaccines to them quickly.

“So, the Pfizer vaccine, the AstraZeneca, those are being negotiated now so that poor countries don’t have to stand in line behind rich countries.

“So, we hope they are starting by the end of January. We will be able to reach these countries, including most of the African countries, Nigeria included, will be able to get access to some of these vaccines.

“Initially, it will be for frontline health workers, followed by some other target groups – older people, those with underlying conditions, and then, from there, the rest of the population. I think the COVAX facility can cover maybe 20-23 per cent of the population by the end of next year,” Okonjo-Iweala said

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation, WHO, has said Africa would need at least $9bn to procure and distribute 1.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

The Immunisation and Vaccines Development Programme Coordinator, WHO, Dr. Richard Mihigo, disclosed this yesterday at the WHO Africa online press briefing on ramping up preparedness for COVID-19 vaccine roll-out in Africa.

Mihigo, who noted that there was need to ensure an equitable and timely distribution of the vaccines, said:  “We will definitely need to vaccinate between 60 to 70 per cent of the African population.

“So, if you consider that we have about 1.2 to 1.3 billion people on the African continent and you take 60 per cent of that with the assumption that you will need maybe two doses per population, we are talking about close to 1.3 to 1.4 billion vaccine doses that will be needed to immunise 60 per cent of the people in Africa to reach a herd immunity.”

He said it was not just about the cost of the vaccines but the cost of delivering them and ensuring that they got to the right locations, adding that there were no guarantees that there would be enough supplies before the end of 2021.

“So, if we compute that number with the preliminary information that we are getting with these vaccine manufacturers because it is not only the cost of the vaccines. There are also additional costs that are needed to deliver those vaccines.

“We know very well that the preliminary rough estimation that is being done, we may need up to $9bn.

‘’So, this is a lot of money, a lot of funding that will be needed. First of all, we are not sure that we are going to get enough supply to immunise everybody by the end of 2021. This may spill over to the year after but also to mobilise such an amount of money, I think it will be an additional challenge,’’ Mihigo added.

He said the COVAX Facility, which is a Gavi-coordinated pooled procurement mechanism for developing COVID-19 vaccines and ensuring fair and equitable access, would make 20 per cent of the vaccines available.

He revealed that there are discussions ongoing with the African Union to work with other multilateral or development banks like the World Bank, Afrexim Bank to mobilise resources.

“Depending on how much vaccines we need, starting by the COVAX facility alone, I think there is an ambition to reach at least 20 per cent but as I said before there are a lot of discussions going on if we really need to reach a herd immunity that will help people to go back to some sort of normal life,” the official said.

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