South-South women…calls for govt’s partnership to scale up sensitization, awareness

By Gabriel Ewepu

AS most countries go head-on to tackle the dreaded Coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic, Healthcare Federation of Nigeria, HFN, yesterday, called for private sector involvement in COVID-19 vaccination exercise and sensitization in Nigeria.

The call was made at interactive session which was opened by President, HFN, Dr Pamela Ajayi, and anchored by the Vice President, Ms Njide Ndili, during an emergency stakeholders’ meeting on the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out to discuss issues around the low uptake of the vaccine amongst healthcare workers including continued advocacy for the involvement of the private sector in the vaccine roll-out.

The meeting also hosted experienced COVID-19 healthcare professionals from the Diaspora along with other leaders of healthcare associations in Nigeria including Healthcare Providers Association of Nigeria, HCPAN, where participants traced shortfall to a high level of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy to healthcare workers as a result of the suspension of the vaccination exercise in several countries because of reported blood clots, infertility and other conspiracy theories making the rounds on social media platforms that are yet to be proven beyond reasonable scientifically.

However, at the meeting it was made known that some healthcare workers have reported their inability to get enough time off work to get the vaccine, there have also being reports of the vaccines been sold to ineligible members of the population who are not in the first vaccination phase.

Other reasons concerning the technology platform used for the exercise to get Nigerians vaccinated had challenges of failure during the registration process; no return email confirming date and time of appointment; QR barcodes generated post vaccination are said not to be linked to any patient information, and other issues.

It was made known that the HFN which is the advocacy body of the private healthcare sector stakeholders has on several occasions engaged National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA, to allow private sector healthcare organizations support the government’s efforts to accelerate vaccine uptake.

It will be recalled that Nigeria received 3.92 million doses of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccines through COVAX, a global scheme formed to ensure fair access to inoculations for low and middle-income states.

The vaccines were allocated by the NPHCDA to almost all 36 States in Nigeria, which they have commenced vaccination of frontline health and essential workers through public sector hospitals and primary healthcare centres only.

According to reports as of April 6, 2021 approximately 965,000 people in the country have been vaccinated, which represents 48.0 per cent of the targeted population to be vaccinated in this first phase.

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The HFN is a coalition of Nigerian private healthcare sector stakeholders with the aim of speaking with a unified voice for the purpose of improving the Nigerian health sector through advocacy and education.

A medical expert from Emory University School of Medicine, Prof Igho Ofotokun who is involved in the clinical trials of the vaccine said, “The clinical trials proved to be 100 per cent effective on African American patients, and therefore Nigerian healthcare workers should be confident that taking the vaccine will protect them from the COVID-19 virus.

“The extent of long term effects of the COVID-19 virus on the human body is still being studied, so the benefits of taking the vaccines far outweigh the negatives.”

In another submission, Dr Egbe Osifo-Dawodu said, “The solution for some of the challenges identified will depend on how our government responds and if it partners with the private sector.

“It is only with the involvement of private sector can Nigeria accelerate the vaccination programme.”

Meanwhile, HFN recommended some solutions to fast-track the vaccination process, these include sensitisation and awareness creation as it will lead to government partnership with the private sector to scale up sensitization and awareness on the COVID-19 vaccination programme to combat vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers; ensuring an active and up to date COVID-19 vaccination website where information is published daily; Government should consider allowing COVID-19 vaccines to be delivered to large hospitals/healthcare facilities with over 250 workers.

Speaking in same vein, Chairman of Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG, Asue Ighodalu, stressed importance of private sector involvement to up-scale uptake in order to open up and boost economic activities.

“Government needs to explore other vaccine options and licenses granted to some private sector organisations to procure vaccines to complement those supplied by the Government.

“This will allow the Government to focus more on regulation and ensuring safety of the vaccination program. Private sector should be allowed to participate in the vaccine administration process using a similar template to that used for the COVID-19 testing in Lagos State, where private sector players are permitted to charge controlled pricing”, Ighodalu said.

However, in a suggestion, Financial Secretary, HFN, and moderator of the interactive session, Adeyemi Adewole, said out of pocket payment for the COVID-19 vaccine should be encouraged for those who can afford it, because it is done in various countries such as in Dubai and India.

Adewole added that there is clearly pent-up demand for the vaccine as there are reported cases of people offering money to be vaccinated, and also many large corporate organisations are anxious to pay for vaccines to protect their staff.

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