By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
As government and the private sector continue to contain the dreaded and deadly novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic, PharmAccess Foundation, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, United Nation Development Programme, UNDP, and others spoke on their experience and impact when the virus crept into the country.
Speaking during a town-hall meeting at the weekend, to get views from actors in the health, economic, education and human sectors on how the country has fared while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also had the Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, in attendance, the Country Director, PharmAccess Foundation, Njide Ndili, made it known that the Foundation led in the integration of private sector in the response to the pandemic.
According to Ndili the Foundation was involved in several activities in Lagos, which has been the epicenter since the outbreak of the pandemic in Nigeria.
The town-hall meeting was organized by the UNDP and also had Former National Coordinator , Presidential Task Force, Dr Sani Aliyu, Ogun State Commissioner of Health, Dr Tomi Coker, and other health stakeholders.
She said: “PharmAccess Foundation which is predominantly supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, provided technical assistance to the Federal and State governments of Nigeria, to build capacity for a strong healthcare system.
“We were involved in several activities in Lagos as we were already in Lagos state, which was the epicenter. The first thing that was done is that we became part of the Lagos State Government’s COVID strategy think-tank to help develop the strategy to combat COVID.
“With that we realized that there was need for the involvement of the private sector. We did the landscaping to identify private labs that could quickly scale up to increase the testing.
“Lagos State very quickly contracted about seven private labs, and we extended that support through the UK government, to the NCDC. Also, developed an innovative application called LUSCII, which helps one monitor COVID symptoms and connects you to a contracted facility, which would provide free testing and free treatment.
She further stated that, “We collaborated with Novartis to supply personal protective equipment (PPEs) to over 23 public healthcare facilities across all the six geopolitical zones of the country.
“And we were able to use that opportunity to promote and upscale the uptake of health insurance in the country. We supported both Lagos and Kwara State to launch their mandatory health insurance scheme.”
In his remarks, the DG NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said: “We definitely didn’t have the public health infrastructure to manage a pandemic of this size or to even mitigate its impact as much as can be.
“However, we did the best with what we had. We had people in our work force who had responded to Lassa fever outbreaks, to meningitis outbreaks, etc. and we deployed them for this. They started what has been one and a half years of consistent response to the biggest threat to health in our lifetime.
“We hope there won’t be another wave of this pandemic and we are doing everything possible to avoid it. However, we are continuously speaking to Nigerians.
However, the NCDC boss warned that, “A third wave is not inevitable, it is up to us to mitigate the impact of this and ensure that there is not third wave. Therefore, the Presidential steering committee made a very difficult decision a few weeks ago, to limit travels from a few countries that were having spikes in infections so as not to bring a new variant of the virus into the country. We are also trying to encourage everyone to take the vaccines.”
Also one of the panelists, the Resident Representative, UNDP, Mr. Mohamed Yahya, x-rayed on what UNDP did to intervene and assist Nigeria country during the heat of the COVID pandemic crisis.
Yahya added that UNDP provided technical assistance for the government’s response team.
“In Nigeria, some of the problems we saw was the fact that the health system is very limited in terms of overall investment, also the social structures were heavily reliant on informality that is the fact that people live in very close proximity.
“Also, the country’s economy which is heavily reliant on oil which meant a heavy reliance on global economic system (which the lockdown and other restrictions had shutdown), all that was posed a perfect storm for a potential disaster in the country.
“However, in response to these, the first thing that we did was to look at how we can support the NCDC and provide the technical needs that were available to us through our specialized agency.
“We also went to panels like the European Union to know how we can support the country. One commendation we have for the Federal Government was on the formation of the Presidential task force because it brought together all approaches to dealing with the pandemic in Nigeria”, he stated.