COVID-19: NPHCDA’s milestones under Faisal

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

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

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

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.

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