By Ismaila Chafe, Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed Nigeria’s readiness to become a global hub for sustainable manufacturing and distribution of vaccine and biological pharmaceuticals to support initiatives to keep people safe.
The president’s spokesman, Mr Femi Adesina, said in a statement that Buhari made the declaration while addressing the World Bio Summit 2022, convened to discuss the future of vaccines and bio-health across the globe, on Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea.
The Nigerian leader also called for the speedy take-off of local production of mRNA vaccines, after the World Health Organisation (WHO) selected Nigeria as one of six African countries to receive technology needed to produce the vaccines.
He pledged commitment to supporting the global response to known or emerging pathogens, including the global vaccine assurance ecosystem and equitable access for all.
He told the meeting, jointly organised by the Government of South Korea and WHO, that Nigeria would continue to explore bilateral, multilateral and other opportunities for cutting-edge technology as a centre of excellence for vaccine manufacturing and distribution.
‘‘As the mRNA technology allows science to shift attention to yet unknown disease threats, we see opportunities to address diseases that have plagued sub-Saharan Africa and Third World countries for centuries.
‘‘We believe bio-medical scientists can dream of ending the scourge of Malaria, Ebola, Lassa Fever and various endemic neglected tropical diseases through development and manufacture of efficacious and affordable vaccines and therapeutics.
‘‘Nigeria invites partners ready to support efforts towards the entire value chain of vaccine technology development in our continent, to consider working with us in Nigeria,’’ he said.
The president noted that ongoing conversations on the future of vaccines tended to support the decentralization of capacity to produce essential materials to respond globally to pandemics,
Buhari expressed Nigeria’s preference for a global warehousing and supply chain strategy to attend to the needs of most countries.
‘‘We believe that this concept makes sense and we fully endorse the wisdom of strategic and balanced spread of critical manufacturing capacity and essential stockpiles across the globe,’’ he said.
According to him, Nigeria is ready and able to offer itself for this initiative, due to its strategic geographical location, strength of economy and market size derived from a population of over 214 million people.
He added that Nigeria’s comparative advantage was also supported from her experience in human and animal vaccine production record since 1924, when colonial authorities produced WHO-certified smallpox, yellow fever and anti-rabies vaccines locally.
He affirmed that the technology had since been improved upon and being used in Jos, Plateau State.
Buhari stressed that the high quality of current academic and research work and potential in Nigeria was also noteworthy.
He also reaffirmed Nigeria’s position on equitable distribution of vaccines, citing lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic and the unpleasant experiences of developing countries.
While describing the global response to the pandemic as discriminatory, the president demanded that the world must not allow the serious public health failure to happen again.
‘‘This Summit certainly opens up global conversations, at high levels of government, on measures that are expected to forestall recurrence of the unpleasant experiences that low-income and lower middle-income countries in Africa and Asia especially, had to endure with regard to access to vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘‘It must be said that inequity in distribution of virtually all requirements for diagnostics and therapy was a key factor in the lack of capacity to produce basic or essential commodities and the total dependence on imported goods.
‘‘Although COVID-19 actually threatened and continues to threaten all of mankind with no regard for race, region or economic standing, global response was not only segmented but discriminatory.
‘‘If the pandemic had taken the course that was predicted by some experts, there could have been an existential threat to sections of humanity. Such a serious public health failure should not be allowed to happen again and lessons must be learned from it,’’ he said.
Buhari recounted the efforts by his administration to mitigate the impact and curtail the spread of coronavirus in the country, highlighting that the positive exploits by the country were recognized and commended by the global health body.
‘‘The response by the Federal Government of Nigeria to the COVID-19 pandemic was the immediate constitution of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 in March 2020, in order to coordinate and oversee Nigeria’s multi-sectoral and inter-governmental efforts to contain the spread and mitigate the impact.
‘‘Nigeria further instituted several measures through the PTF-COVID-19, anchored by our Ministry of Health, to curtail the spread of the virus and protect the health of Nigerians.
‘‘These measures included an initial lockdown of non-essential activities; closure of schools; ban on international flights, nationwide curfews, set up of testing and treatment centres and so on.
The president maintained that these concerted efforts of government, with the support of stakeholders in the private and public agencies, were able to mitigate the impact and curtail the spread of the virus on the nation health systems.
He added that efforts were designed to provide safety nets for rural and vulnerable populations in the conflict-affected regions in Nigeria.
‘‘Through international cooperation and global solidarity, including the remarkable role of the United Nations country team in Nigeria, we were able to surmount the initial challenge of access and availability of the COVID-19 vaccines,” he said.
While commending the role of WHO in this regard, Buhari noted that the global health body continuously advocated for equitable sharing of vaccines through the COVAX Facility, and for sharing of technology through bilateral and multilateral agreements through the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool.
The president told the World Bio Summit 2022, attended by Chief Executive Officers of Global Vaccines and Biologics Companies that undoubtedly, the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic had jolted the collective consciousness of world leaders and the need to chart a better future.
‘‘Now more than ever, we must step up, as leaders in a world in desperate need of healing and repair, to begin to have the difficult conversations about a future, which we must be better prepared for, in order to avoid further devastation to our lives, livelihoods and physical environment.
‘‘The pandemic, within its first three months, exposed several weaknesses in our global health and economic systems, as the world shut down and panic pervaded nations scrambling to control a virus we were yet to fully understand.
‘‘In those tough times, we were reminded, once more, of the important role played by world leaders, whose citizens entrusted them with the responsibility of charting the way out of those tumultuous times, to a future of tranquillity and hope and a more resilient world that is safer for future generations.’’
On Nigeria’s quest to revive local vaccine production, the president recalled that the Federal Government of Nigeria had ratified a Joint Venture Agreement with a leading Nigerian pharmaceutical company for a public-private enterprise.
He noted that when WHO announced Nigeria as one of six African countries to receive technology to produce mRNA vaccines, in Feb. l, 2022, Bio-Vaccine Ltd. facilitated the participation of Nigerian scientists in the ongoing vaccine production workforce training in Seoul, from June 2022.
He said that this was supported by the Korean Government.
‘‘Nigeria also hosted representatives of frontline Research & Development organizations to collaborate in R & D and clinical trials.
‘‘Let me also underscore the important initiative supported by the WHO for the establishment of an mRNA technology transfer hub as a strategy to increase mRNA vaccine production capacity in under-served regions, and thus promote regional health security.
‘‘The aim is to support manufacturers in low-income and middle-income countries to produce their own vaccines, ensuring that they have all the necessary operating procedures and technical know-how to produce mRNA vaccines at scale, while observing the WHO Good Manufacturing Practices.’’
According to him, as one of the six African countries selected to be the first on the continent to receive the technology needed to produce local mRNA vaccines in the WHO scheme, Nigeria is taking steps to provide the needed infrastructure and requisite funding necessary for the implementation of this noble initiative.
‘‘In this regard, a private pharmaceutical company to facilitate pharmaceutical production of the mRNA vaccines has been identified to pilot this project.
‘‘While we express our appreciation, once more, to the WHO and other partners for selecting Nigeria, we would like to urge for the speedy take-off of this project in the interest of global health security,’’ he said.