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Buhari Authorizes N8.5bn for Medical Research

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Medical Services

By Adedapo Adesanya

President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the sum of N8.5 billion for the conduct of ground-breaking research in medicine and other areas in 2021 under the National Research Fund (NRF) scheme funded by the Tertiary Education Trust (TETFund).

This was disclosed by the Executive Secretary of TETFund, Mr Suleiman Bogoro, on Wednesday at a 3-day workshop for Directors of Research and Development of public universities in Nigeria held at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Training Institute, Maitama, Abuja.

Mr Bogoro said: “With your support, I made a case to the board of trustees to increase the NRF research grants, from initially we had seed money of N3 billion it got exhausted and N1 billion was added between 2016 and 2019.

“But when I came, I decided to revolutionise it and I said it is not a question of seed money, let it be annual money and that is why I made a case for N5 billion in 2019 alone. 2020 we raised it to N7.5 billion.

“This year, Mr President has approved another N7.5 billion but guess what, with additional N1 billion that we intend to do groundbreaking research around medicine even in respect of the COVID-19 challenge.”

The TETFund boss said the fund intends to put money at the Nigerian Medical Research Institute (NMIR) to resuscitate their vaccine production.

He added that he has scheduled a meeting with the Director-General of NMIR, Mr Babatunde Salako, to be joined by brilliant professors of medicine from some universities across the country to achieve specific research objectives.

Mr Bogoro decried the failure of research institutes to have the appetite to establish a good relationship with universities to promote research and development, stating that universities are also guilty of disregarding them.

He stressed the need for collaboration between the universities and research institutes to know what the institutes are doing and offer assistance where necessary.

While urging participants at the workshop to take the initiative of looking at why kidnapping has become so lucrative, the TETfund boss lamented that young engineers and technology experts were rather deploying their expertise to aid the growing wave of abductions across the country.

He challenged university professors not to parade themselves with titles but to engage in problem-solving research that will change things for the good of the nation.

On his part, TETFund’s Director of Research and Development, Mr Salisu Bakare, noted that universities are by nature problem-solvers, adding that when universities are not solving problems of the society, the question remains whether they are achieving their mandates.

Mr Bakare restated the call for Nigeria to transit to a knowledge economy, stressing that the R&D centre of excellence in TETFund was established for this purpose as research and development represent Nigeria’s future.

According to him, in a bid to achieve this mandate, the fund has established centres of excellence in several universities, increased the national Research fund and constituted a committee that is currently working on a draft bill for the establishment of the National Research and Development Foundation.

He urged participating institutions at the workshop not to be left behind in the effort of the fund to retrain them and instil a culture of research to enhance national development.

Adedapo Adesanya is a journalist, polymath, and connoisseur of everything art. When he is not writing, he has his nose buried in one of the many books or articles he has bookmarked or simply listening to good music with a bottle of beer or wine. He supports the greatest club in the world, Manchester United F.C.

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NIPRD DG Calls for Local Vaccine Development

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NIPRD

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Director-General of the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Dr Obi Adigwe, has called for the inauguration of a National Vaccine Development Technical Working Group with a working secretariat.

This, according to him, will help overcome the challenges hindering vaccine development and production in the country.

He made his position known while making a presentation at a just-concluded National COVID-19 Summit in Abuja.

The summit was put together by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 to fashion out solutions towards ending the pandemic and building back the economy better.

The two-day summit which started with technical sessions was with the theme Pushing through the Last Mile to End the Pandemic and Build Back Better.

The objectives of the event, among others, was to review the country’s COVID-19 response from February 2020 to November 2021- to identify successes, gaps, and lessons learnt; identify resources and develop strategies that will actualize the country’s expressed international commitments towards ending COVID-19 by December 31, 2022; develop an accountability framework for COVID-19 response and health security in Nigeria.

Others included synthesizing the blueprint for Nigeria’s pandemic recovery, reconstruction, health security, and sustainability; and articulating actionable recommendations to President Muhammadu Buhari on the governance structure, resources, and policies needed to end COVID-19 in Nigeria by December 31, 2022, and build back the health system and the economy to better respond to future health-security threats.

The NIPRD DG further called for the establishment of a Vaccine Research and Development Fund with sustainable funding strategy; mapping of human and infrastructural resources and capacities and gaps.

He also put forward that there is a need to set up a 10-year development agenda with key milestones – prioritizing capacity development strategy (human, laboratory and production); identifying and targeting diseases of national priority for vaccine R&D; strengthening linkages among key institutions and the private sector; attracting competent/skilled human resources from the diaspora and strong international cooperation, partnerships and collaboration.

Dr Adigwe, however, identified that political will coupled with the provision of a clear local vaccine development agenda and Research and Development (R&D) prioritization and coordination across efforts are key to achieving local vaccine development and production in Nigeria.

The NIPRD Director-General also revealed that limited access to finance, weak infrastructure (R&D and production), low technological capacity and weak regulatory environments are among the factors frustrating vaccine development and production in Nigeria.

He, therefore, vowed that NIPRD remained committed to continuing its statutory mandate in undertaking R&D activities that will not only improve access to health, but also contribute to the economy, and to national development.

“We have, and will continue to play a lead role in articulating the prioritization of pharmaceutical independence.

“The epidemiological nature of the diseases in Africa, together with the relevant demographic indices, means that a robust engagement with the pharmaceutical sector can provide an innovative model which can uniquely improve healthcare access whilst stimulating socio-economic development.

“Solutions for African healthcare issues must come from Africans who have the willingness and capacity to engage vigorously with relevant issues.

“NIPRD has demonstrated cognate capacity, experience and expertise to lead this intervention and remains partnership-ready to collaborate with other critical stakeholders towards the achievement of health and wealth for all,” he noted.

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Greece Gives One Million Doses of COVID-19 Vaccine to Nigeria

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Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine

By Adedapo Adesanya

**As NCDC Confirms 102 Deaths from Lassa Fever in 2021

Greece has donated about one million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Nigeria as the federal government moves to ensure more citizens are vaccinated against the disease.

A delegation from the European country led by its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Nikolaos Dendias, announced the donation of the vaccines in Abuja on Monday.

Mr Dendias made the announcement at a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, and other Nigerian government officials.

He said Nigeria and Greece have enjoyed a favourable bond over the years and that his country was even willing to expand the relationship between both nations.

The Greek minister explained that such an expansion would culminate in the signing of Memoranda of Understanding on various issues affecting both countries.

Mr Onyeama, on his part, said Nigeria has enjoyed a smooth partnership with Greece in the area of defence.

He said the present administration was willing to expand its partnership with Greece, especially in the areas of agriculture and infrastructure.

In another health-related development, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said in its latest situation report on the Lassa fever disease that a total of 102 infected people died from the disease in 2021.

“Cumulatively from week 1 to week 52, 2021, 102 deaths have been reported with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 20.0 per cent which is lower than the CFR for the same period in 2020 (20.7 per cent).

“In total for 2021, 17 states have recorded at least one confirmed case across 68 Local Government Areas.”

Of all the cases confirmed last year, three states accounted for 84 per cent – Edo (42 per cent), Ondo (34 per cent), and Bauchi (eight per cent).

The predominant age group affected, according to the NCDC, is 21-30 years while the male to female ratio for confirmed cases is 1:0.9.

It, however, indicated that the number of suspected cases decreased compared to the figure reported for the same period in 2020.

Lassa virus is transmitted to man by infected multi-mammate rats and humans become infected from direct contact with the urine and faeces of the rat carrying the virus.

In a bid to further tackle the disease in the new year, the NCDC said it was conducting high burden states preparedness/response engagement meeting.

It added that the National Emergency Operations Centre alert mode has been activated for effective multisectoral and multi-disciplinary coordination, stressing that the State Public Health Emergency Operations Centre has been triggered in affected states.

“The five Lassa fever molecular laboratories in the NCDC network are working full capacity to ensure that all samples are tested, and results provided within the shortest turnaround time,” the agency said.

“Confirmed cases are treated at identified treatment centres across the states. Dissemination of reviewed case management and safe burial practices guidelines. Risk communications and community engagement activities have been scaled up across states using television, radio, print, social media and other strategies,” it added.

NCDC also said it has deployed rapid response teams to three states and the Federal Ministry of Environment has implemented a Lassa fever environmental response campaign in high burden states.

Lassa fever is an acute viral illness and a viral haemorrhagic fever first reported in the Lassa community in Borno State when two missionary nurses died from an unusual febrile illness.

Since then, Nigeria has continued to report cases and outbreaks and the disease is increasingly recognised to be endemic in many parts of West Africa such as Benin Republic, Ghana, Mali and the Mano River region (Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea).

People also contract the disease by touching soiled objects, eating contaminated food, or exposure to open cuts or sores.

Secondary transmission from person to person can also occur as a result of exposure to the virus in the blood, tissue, urine, faeces or other bodily secretions of an infected patient.

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Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Diplomacy in Africa

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COVID-19 Vaccine

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

Last December, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted to the official website for the public reading its end-of-year report. The report offered the most significant activities and achievements, among them was the striking theme on Covid-19.

The report says in part: “Russia has contributed to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and to overcome its consequences. Registration of the Sputnik V vaccine was ensured in 71 countries, significant volumes of domestic vaccines were supplied abroad, and agreements were reached on the localization and expansion of the production of Russian drugs in various regions of the world.”

The unexpected outbreak of the coronavirus in December 2019 made many governments, organizations and health institutions still struggling for scientific solutions to the epidemiological situations express solidarity and call for closer bilateral cooperation in the sphere of health.

Some countries showed practical concern by making quick deliveries of medications and diagnostic materials, immune-biological preparations and medical equipment. Besides that, scientists were on their toes looking for appropriate COVID-19 vaccines.

In the process, Russia was the first to reach the goalpost. In less than a year, precisely on August 11, 2020, Russia became the first country to register a coronavirus vaccine named Sputnik V, developed by the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Russian Foreign Ministry report last December says Sputnik V was registered in 71 countries. While it is yet to get final approval from World Health Organization (WHO), it is currently registered under the emergency use authorization procedure, according to the statement from the RDIF website. The RDIF is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors. RDIF acts as a catalyst for direct investment in the Russian economy.

President Vladimir Putin has oftentimes praised the entire healthcare system, and particularly the hard-working team of scientists and specialists from different institutions for their efforts at research and creating a series of vaccines for use against the coronavirus both at home and abroad.

As the Foreign Ministry, the end-of-year report indicated, a quarter of the figure cited of foreign countries that registered Russian vaccine are in Africa. Algeria was the first African country to register the Russian vaccine. Ministry of Pharmaceutical Industry of Algeria registered Sputnik V on 10 January 2021 as follows from a post on their official Twitter account. Reportedly, the vaccine registered in the following African countries: Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.

Experts say that such a step is necessary for Russia to reassert its geopolitical influence and already engage in keen competition with other foreign players on the continent. However, a majority of African countries, where Sputnik V was registered, could not get supplies to purchase as promised.

Admittedly, Russia faces vaccine production challenges to meet the increasing market demand and to make prompt delivery on its pledges to external countries. As vaccine production and distribution intensifies, rivalry and competition strengthen and the fight for market share and its associated disinformation abound worldwide.

An official media release in mid-February 2021 said that the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team – set up by the African Union (AU) to acquire additional vaccine doses so that Africa can attain a target immunization of 60% – received an offer of 300 million Sputnik V vaccines from the Russian Federation. It was further described as a special offer from Russia.

As explained by John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC): “Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”

Russia never delivered the 300 million vaccines. Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat visited Moscow in mid-November. During their joint media conference after the closed-door meeting, Minister Sergey Lavrov, of course, reaffirmed that Russia would continue rendering assistance to various African countries through various multilateral organizations and bilateral channels.

“In response to a request from African Union members, Russia provided aid to almost 20 states by supplying them with vaccines, medications, and individual protective gear, and by sending qualified specialists,” he explained. Sergey Lavrov and his counterpart Moussa Faki Mahamat however maintained silence over the offer of 300 million doses that were highly expected through the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team of the African Union.

In the Situation Analytical Report on Russia-Africa, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and was released last November, Russia’s consistent failure in honouring its several pledges over the years was vividly highlighted. The report decried the increased number of bilateral and high-level meetings that yield little or no definitive results.

“In many cases and situations, ideas and intentions are often passed for results, unapproved projects are announced as going ahead. Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa is an example. Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers often failed to meet its contractual obligations on time,” says the report.

On a bilateral basis, Russia has made some vaccine deliveries, but only to its preferred countries including North Africa (Algeria Morocco and Egypt), East Africa (Ethiopia), in Southern Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe) and West Africa (Guinea). Media reports say South Africa has rejected Sputnik V donations.

Early December, President Vladimir Putin held a telephone conversation with the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. According to the official Kremlin transcript, “the presidents agreed to join efforts in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, in particular in view of the newly identified Omicron strain, and further discussed interaction within BRICS.” Thereafter, Kremlin dispatched Russian specialists to join the research of the Omicron strain in South Africa.

During the end-of-year media conference, Putin emphasized: “This struggle continues, and we are aware of the dangers that Omicron, this new strain, poses. As you may know, a group of Russian scientists and experts is now in South Africa, where their colleagues actually discovered this new strain. Once again, I would like to thank our colleagues from South Africa.”

The December phone conversation took place against the backdrop of the current entry restrictions on travellers from southern African countries, due to the spread of a new Covid-19 variant (new B.1.1.529 variant). With the outbreak of Omicron, external countries have imposed restrictions on entry into their territories from southern African countries including Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and South Africa.

Russia’s drive to share the Sputnik V vaccine offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. The authorities have oftentimes said that they would step up efforts for fruitful cooperation in combating coronavirus in Africa.

Last year Russia, through its Russian Direct Investment Fund, attempted to sell the vaccines to a number of African countries through Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, from the Monarch family and a third party in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The Republic of Ghana reportedly signed a $64.6 million contract for the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia through Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum. It was double the price from the producer as reported in local Russian media.

Promising more than can be delivered appears to be a universal problem with coronavirus vaccines, and it is a real risk for Russia as well, said Theresa Fallon, Director of the Brussels-based Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies. “They have won the gold medal for creating this very effective vaccine,” she said. “But the problem is how are they going to implement production and delivery?”

In mid-December, TASS News Agency reported that the Russian Sputnik V vaccine was likely to be supplied to African countries free of charge, and quoted CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund Kirill Dmitriev who had told the Rossiya-1 TV Channel. “The first batches are likely to be delivered to African countries since there is a very high incidence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant,” CEO Dmitriev told the TV Channel.

Referring to the Situation Analytical Report on Russia-Africa, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking was listed among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. Interestingly Russians attempt to reclaim its stature as a global power and show that it is a key player, but evidence-based researches into Russia’s growing presence in Africa is however limited, particularly from the African perspective.

This aspect of dating and promising has become part of its post-Soviet diplomacy. What makes matters worse is that Russia simply do not promptly deliver on it promises and pledges with African countries. It has become part of its policy approach full of inconsistencies and full of first-class symbolism – these experts rightly listed among the main flaws in its African policy in the November report.

What’s more significant throughout last year, nearly all African countries received Covid-19 vaccines from the global COVAX scheme. This is due to the basic fact that they have lagged behind the rest in the world, and have to scramble for vaccines and always welcome donations from friendly governments from the western world and Europe.

While the pandemic ranges on, Africa really needs the developed world, as it has no vaccine of its own. It is far behind the rest of the world in terms of acquisition and inoculations. Africa remains resolute at ensuring the welfare of the entire population, while the African Union, regional blocs and individual governments make frantic efforts to acquire adequate vaccines through bilateral and multilateral agencies, and especially through COVAX.

On the other hand, the continent is witnessing an increased geopolitical rivalry for influence including competition over generosity. For many African countries, it is time to reflect as the pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in their health system. With its abundant resources, Africa still remains the world’s poorest and least developed continent, and worse with poor development policies. Amid all challenges, it is time to prioritize and focus on sustainable development.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization has reminded us that the pandemic struck at a time of rapid transformation for Africa. According to him, “many African countries have low levels of coverage of health services, and when health is at risk, everything is at risk” especially this challenging time when governments have to get together to save lives around the world.

World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic since March 2020. South Africa accounts for the biggest number of Africa’s coronavirus cases. The overall number of Covid-19 cases in Africa stands at least 9,741,000 reported infections and 228,000 reported deaths caused by the novel coronavirus in Africa in late December, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.

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