By Ruth Ihuwe
In recent times, it’s more convincing to proclaim that Nigeria, as a country is tethered to the nausea of bad news. But last week, cheering news broke out. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the ranking of Nigeria’s COVID-19 response as the fourth-best in the world. The pleasant news was conveyed by WHO’s Country Director in Nigeria, Dr. Walter Mulombo at the ceremony of the receipt of the first consignment of 177,600 doses of the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine on August 12, 2021 in Abuja.
Admittedly, the positive results in the control of COVID-19 spread in Nigeria is a consequence of a series of coordinated actions by the Federal Government, the Presidential Task Force on the Control of COVID-19,(later renamed Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19), Nigerian Center for Disease Control (NCDC), but finally, the bulk anchored by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA).
The good news from WHO profoundly reminded of the hard work, commitment and dexterity of NPHCDA’s Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, the main agency mandated with the burden to lead the administration of COVID-19 vaccines in Nigeria. It is an understatement to say, Dr. Shuaib, a public health management expert has performed creditably in his assignment, despite the initial frustrating fake myths and tales weaved around the COVAX vaccine by saboteurs.
WHO was specific in the commendation to Nigeria that NPHCDA had successfully completed the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out. In his mapped-out strategic plan of action, Dr. Shuaib’s ingenuity focused the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination on frontline workers and other priority groups, exposed to high risk of contracting COVID-19. And he has fruitfully executed it to earn the glory of Nigeria’s fourth ranking on response to COVID-19 by WHO, in spite of the initial internal sabotage and organized campaigns of resistance.
When the China, Wuhan induced Coronavirus pandemic broke out and reached the shores of Nigeria at the beginning of 2020, it was like a death spell cast on the country. The public phrenzy, panic and anxiety in Nigerians seemed endless, something akin to a death sentence passed on the country. Thereafter, COVID-19 began its melonic spread across the country like wildfires, with unexpected infections and deaths in all parts of the country.
The Nigerian Government and Nigerians were jolted from slumber instantly. It was obvious, danger of a greater magnitude of massive deaths than presently obtained lurked in all corners of Nigeria, waiting for any hapless victim to devour. Even cynics had a second thought. President Muhammadu Buhari decreed measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
And streams of COVID-19 protocols were immediately enunciated. Nigeria was completely locked down and security operatives drafted to impose compliance. Social distancing rules, use of facemasks and hand sanitizers in private homes and public places were canvassed and imposed where necessary. It was a maddening rash of actions from all stakeholders to avert portentously a worst human catastrophe in recent history.
Foreign travels ban were also slammed, while medical scientists in the country and those in other foreign nations worked sleeplessly to find the solutions of arresting COVID-19, through treatment of its patients and the inoculation potential victims against it. Obviously, the pandemic in every indication had the trappings of the world’s latest holocaust. Scores of COVID-19 infections, and alarming deaths were reported everywhere around the globe, including America, China, Brazil, Italy and the rest of the world, sending morbid fear to humanity.
The Coronavirus plaque was so intense that even the dead begged to find those to bury them, including family members; a hovering situation of despair similar to what some poets usually qualify as “Let the dead bury the dead.” Nigerians dreaded the repercussions of testing positive COVID-19 and recoiled into their shells. It extremely distorted life economically and socially.
But salvation soon descended its blessings on a wailing world. Eventually, COVID-19 vaccine was discovered, tested and approved by WHO to come to the rescue of an entrapped humanity. The Oxford/ AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines waded into the battle against COVID-19. Nigeria took the initial consignment of 3.92 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines through the Vaccines Global Assess Facility (COVAX) facility on March 2nd 2021 for onward distribution and commencement of vaccinations.
And in same Month, Nigeria received another 100,000 doses from the Indian Government, bringing the total number of vaccines to 4,024,000 doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Through the NPHCDA, Dr. Shuaib prepared for the preservation and storage of the COVID-19 vaccines. He built National Strategic Cold Store, cold rooms in states and ensured the vaccines were stored under approved temperatures to keep them safe for human usage and also, guaranteed the safety of the vaccines while in transit to their respective destinations.
By February 2021, and sequel to the arrival of the COVAX facility, Dr. Shuaib trained health workers nationwide on how to administer the vaccination. Over 13,000 health care workers were trained at the national training of trainers in the first phase, which drew participants from the national, state and local governments. The training later extended to health workers at the ward and facility levels. So far, over 100,000 participants had been trained by NHCDA in the areas of effective handling, storage and administration of COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr. Shuaib also digitalized the process of vaccination which entailed self e-registration, where pre-vaccination numbers and a preferred scheduled date and time of vaccination was indicated for effective outreach to Nigerians. He increased sensitization /awareness campaigns on the COVID-19 vaccination exercise and demystified contrived myths designed to hamper the success of the programme.
The NPHCDA left no stone unturned to trigger success in the administration of the life-saving COVID-19 facility. By end of March 2021, the very first month of the exercise, public scepticism paved way for consent to intake of the vaccine. And the initial positive results from the COVID-19 vaccination based on available statistics show a total of over 325,514 eligible Nigerians vaccinated with the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine across the country.
And a micro breakdown of the statistics on COVID-19 vaccination is an impressive record of the highest rate in Africa, with a daily coverage of an average of 87,000 people in Nigeria. This figure is higher than other countries on the continent like Egypt (72,000) South Africa (52,000) Ghana (12,100) and Senegal (4,790), which appears uppermost on their vaccination rate chart.
NPHCDA has combined the administration of both first and second doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on Nigerians and the outcomes are commendable. A total of 2,265,805 persons have been vaccinated with the first dose and another 1,175,341 vaccinated in the second dose.
Today, and in barely six months, Dr. Shuaib has utilized 3,441,146 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for the first and second doses of vaccinations, representing roughly 88 per cent of the total of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines received by Nigeria. Therefore, one is confident to say, the NPHDCA under the guidance of Dr. Shuaib has not derailed from its publicized master plan for the COVID-19 vaccination administration with a projection to vaccinate 40% of Nigeria’s population by the end of the year 2021, and conquer a 70 % target by 2022.
WHO recently commended that, “Nigeria’s preparation for the second phase of the COVID-19 vaccination, involving more resources and logistics, is highly commendable.”
Through the exemplary leadership and positive character manifestations of Dr. Shuaib, the American-trained and ex- Senior Program Officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Seattle, USA, the public disillusions on the administration of the COVID-19 vaccines have vanished.
His strong administrative character has made Nigeria one of the most trusted countries in the distribution of the COVAX facilities to the extent the international community and donor agencies are eager to support the country with more vaccines.
Consequently, in August, the United Kingdom donated 699,760 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Nigeria from the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) company through the COVAX initiative. The supply brings the total number of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca doses so far received by Nigeria to over 4.6 million.
And good news is that WHO has certified that the “J&J” vaccine is highly effective against contracting the Delta variant. It is targeted to be administered on those who have received the first dose of the vaccine, in the first phase of the vaccine roll-out. By the end of August, another total of 1,173,132 doses of vaccines will come into the country for Nigerians.
Therefore, in Nigeria’s most challenging moments, Dr. Shuaib stoop up at the risk of his life to collaborate with other patriots to salvage his country. He has travelled this path in the public health sector all his life right from the days of Polio eradication campaigns, and Ebola et al. He is a gem and a worthy asset in public health management in Nigeria. This is confirmed by his merited appointment as NPHCDA boss in 2017. He has further proven his worth with the outstanding delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations and prudent management of human resources.
Ihuwe is a primary health care advocate and wrote this piece from Lagos.