The Chairman of the National Immunization Finance Task Team, NIFT, Ben Anyene, restated the authorities’ helplessness over the health emergency on Thursday while addressing journalists in Abuja.
The National Vaccine Financing Task Team was inaugurated by the former executive director of the Nigeria Primary Health Care Development Agency, Ado Bayero, in recognition of the need for more coordinated effort around vaccine financing and security.
Reiterating that the government does not have enough vaccines, Mr. Anyene said that Nigeria is in dire need of divine intervention to contain the disease which has claimed over 700 lives since its outbreak in November 2016.
The Governor of Zamfara, Abdulaziz Yari, whose state is worst hit by the outbreak with close to 300 recorded deaths, had drawn widespread criticism about a forthnight ago when he attributed the epidemic to God’s anger over the sins of Nigerians.
Speaking on Thursday, however, Mr. Anyene said Nigeria is facing scarcity of vaccines due to lack of proper planning.
“The constraint with immunization of meningitis is that there is no vaccine and that is the truth of the fact. The C strain of meningitis is not very common, but it does happen. The sign has been there in the country for the past three years but nobody wanted to take note”, he stated.
“For countries that plan, you don’t have to wait to have a situation. Through their planning and preventive measures, they have these vaccines stocked. You heard them talking about vaccine coming from Britain. Britain doesn’t have meningitis but because of planning, they have some stock but Nigeria does not have such.
“We need to build up our system because vaccine is not a commodity on the shelf that you can just buy over the counter. Vaccine has to be pre-ordered and paid for upfront and it takes about six months for it to be delivered to you,” he said.
It was reported how the Federal Government earlier claimed that it had acquired enough vaccines to combat the Type C strain of the epidemic currently ravaging the country.
A total of 500,000 doses of Meningitis C vaccines have been distributed to some of the affected states for immediate outbreak response vaccination, while additional 823,970 doses are being expected from the United Kingdom to support vaccination activities in other affected states.
Mr. Anyene, however, stated that when compared to the number of people who need to be vaccinated, it is obvious that there is a shortage and that there is real scarcity.
“There is scarcity of vaccine. Or does Nigeria now produce vaccines? Zamfara needs about three million doses of vaccine and they gave them 300,000 doses. Does that mean vaccines are available in the country?”
The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, had earlier admitted that the outbreak of the disease shows that the ministry has to increase its surveillance outlook and preparation on curtailing future epidemic outbreak of diseases in the country.
“Though the ministry has been preparing for an outbreak of Meningitis in the country, the magnitude of the outbreak and casualties recorded has shown that a lot still needs to be done”, the minister had said.
Also on Thursday, Mr. Adewole disclosed that funding needed for immunisation will be more than quadruple by 2026 – from $85 million to $378 million with nearly eight million children born each year.
The minister disclosed this during a meeting with donors and development partners – including the World Bank, World Health Organisation, Rotary, UNICEF, funding agencies from U.S., Canada and Japan—to ask for increased contributions to help Nigeria pay for immunisation.
Mr. Adewole noted that to ensure that there is no stock out of vaccines, the government needs to budget two years ahead.
Speaking during the event, the Director General of the NPHCDA, Faizal Shuaib, said an audit firm, KPMG, is to probe the finances of the agency in hopes of increasing donor confidence as Nigeria seeks donor support to fund immunisation.
He said “KPMG will work at our finance management system to close all loopholes and put in place strategies that make it difficult for people to line their pockets with public funds.”
“In the last two to three years, there’s this cloud of corruption and distrust of NPHCDA. It is an open secret. Donors are worried they are not sure what’s happening with NPHCDA. What we are doing is build back that trust.
Donor confidence in Nigeria’s health finance swayed after a prolonged investigation found that billions of naira from Global Fund was misappropriated.
The 2017 budget proposes refunds, including N4.8 billion to Global Fund and N1.6 billion to the Global Alliance for Vaccine, which will withdraw its support from Nigeria by 2020, leaving the country solely responsible for its immunization.