By Aliko Dangote and Bill Gates
This week, more than 138,000 vaccinators will fan out across five African countries in the Lake Chad area in a push to eliminate polio in Africa and rid the world of this terrible disease forever.
They will take boats across fast-flowing rivers, ride jeeps along sandy ravines, walk crowded street in towns and cities and navigate cramped quarters of refugee camps to ensure that every child is immunized.
Traveling for hours a day, these dedicated women and men will visit children in homes, schools, train stations, and transit points across Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic.
This also marks World Immunization Week, a coordinated effort to make sure that people everywhere understand the importance of getting immunized to protect against vaccine-preventable diseases.
And by coincidence, it was almost seven years ago that the two of us first met in a hotel conference room in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. We were there as part of a diverse group—public officials, religious leaders, business people, polio survivors, and journalists—to discuss how we could work together to stop polio in Nigeria.
At the time, Nigeria had done an amazing job tackling polio—reducing reported cases by 95 percent in just one year. But it was still circulating in six Nigerian states. While 95 percent might seem like success, as long as a single child remains infected, children across Africa and around the world are at risk.
Thanks to the effort of so many, Nigeria’s Borno State is now the only place in Africa today where polio is still circulating. It will take ingenuity to end polio there, and it will take persistence to continue reaching children in the surrounding area with vaccines to protect them from the disease until it is eradicated. But we’re confident it can be done. And when that happens, Africa will celebrate one of the biggest victories ever in public health.
Since our first meeting in 2010, the two of us have worked together on a range of other projects to help improve health in Nigeria and across Africa.
We supported the establishment of emergency operations centers in Nigeria and other countries to keep polio from spreading. This turned out to be a blessing during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. When the disease first appeared in Nigeria—an international travel hub that is home to more than 180 million people—the staff of an emergency operations center set up in Lagos jumped into action and stopped the disease in its tracks. It’s almost unimaginable to think what would have happened without them.
In the state of Kano, we are working with the government to ensure that children can get essential childhood immunizations against tetanus, pneumonia, liver cancer and measles. And when parents bring their children into a clinic for vaccinations, health workers can address other health issues, too, like nutrition, care for pregnant mothers and newborns and malaria prevention and treatment. We have since widened the program to several other states.
Vaccines are also one of the best tools to save lives in an epidemic, such as the meningitis C outbreak happening now in Nigeria and other West African countries.
And because of the devastating impact malnutrition has on Nigeria’s children – leading to 300,000 deaths annually and causing stunted growth and development in millions more – we have expanded our partnership to include nutrition programs across 12 states.
Earlier this year, we also helped launch the End Malaria Council, a group of influential public and private sector leaders committed to ensuring that malaria eradication remains a top global priority.
Underlying all these efforts is our belief that strengthening health systems is the key to breaking the cycle of extreme poverty and disease—and kick-starting a virtuous cycle of health, productivity, and prosperity.
In our work together, we have learned a few important lessons.
First, improving the health of communities depends on a successful partnership between government, communities, religious and business leaders, volunteers, and NGOs. This ensures that everyone is rowing in the same direction. And it is essential to building trust so parents have the confidence that vaccines are safe and will protect their children from life-threatening diseases.
Second, we must keep innovating to speed up progress. This month, for example, vaccinators will test a new vaccine carrier that keeps the temperature of vaccines stable for up to five days, even in blistering heat. This breakthrough will enable vaccinators to finally reach children in extremely remote areas with life-saving vaccines.
Last, accurate and reliable data is central to any effort to improve health. Data can tell a health officer which communities are running low on vaccine supplies, where there are gaps in vaccination coverage, and which new mothers need reminders to take their babies to the health clinic to be immunized.
An Africa without polio is within reach. So is the vision of getting life-saving vaccines to every child. Success will generate more enthusiasm and support from across different sectors – government, business, civil society, the media – to tackle other killer diseases and the underlying conditions that affect people’s health, including fixing broken health systems.
We know that strengthening health systems takes time and diligence. We are optimistic that Africa can achieve the future it aspires to. That future depends on people working together—across national borders and across socioeconomic strata—to build the better world we all want.
This is an opinion piece by Aliko Dangote and Bill Gates
Breast Cancer Survivor Preaches Routine Screening
Gloria Orji was 35 years old when she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in June 2010.
As an unmarried young woman in her prime, she was devastated because she thought she had her life planned out but finding out she had breast cancer was certainly not a part of her plans.
“I felt shattered and asked the doctor how long I had to live, and he answered who said you will die?” she says, recalling the day she received her result.
Today, she has every reason to be grateful as she is still alive, living healthy, and got married in 2021.
She recounted detecting a lump in her breast during self-examination and informed a friend, who advised her to visit the hospital for a medical check.
“I underwent a biopsy, and cancerous cells were found in the breast tissue sample. I was then referred to National Hospital, Abuja, for treatment,” she says.
Her breast cancer is at Stage 2 and required six courses of chemotherapy, surgery, and 25 sessions of radiotherapy which lasted five weeks.
On completion of the treatment plan, she was placed on five-year-long hormonal treatment and periodic consultations with the doctor.
Believing she had scaled through, Ms Orji, unfortunately, had a reoccurrence eight years later (2018).
“In 2018, I felt another lump in the same breast during self-examination and underwent another round of surgery and treatment.”
“Treatment has been financially draining, and I soon became a charity case. Battling cancer, you have no savings as everything goes into treatment to stay alive. My family, friends and doctor have been very supportive,” she says.
A new life
During the course of her treatment in 2017, Ms Orji realized she had a big decision to make as she noticed patients like her depended on their families and themselves for information about their cancers.
Putting her ordeal to good use, Ms Orji supported by friends working as cancer advocates, created a support group for cancer patients known as the Network of People Impacted by Cancer.
“Having no reliable source for credible cancer information has been making misinformation about the disease thrive. We (patients) depended on each other for information forgetting that people had different forms of cancers and at different stages. We needed a community where we could get the correct medical knowledge to make informed decisions and advocate for government to support cancer treatment in the country.
Through the group, we have been able to use our voice to advocate for government support for cancer treatment in the country, and a notable success is that the National Health Insurance Act (NHIS) now covers some percentage of cancer treatment. It was not previously so.
Also, through a unified voice with the Health Federation of Nigeria to the legislatures, a cancer health fund (CHF) is now available to provide funding and healthcare services to indigent cancer patients in the country, she added.
The CHF program is an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Health that commenced in 2021 with six pilot hospitals.
“Going through cancer and its treatment has changed me forever. This disease gave me a better perspective on what matters and a renewed appreciation for the people in my life”.
Ms Orji, lamented that many cancer patients in the country could have survived but often present late to the hospital for treatment.
Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone at any age, ethnicity, educational level, and economic status, so we all need to be proactive about our health, eliminate unhealthy habits and listen to our bodies.
People should seek accurate information from reliable sources and support and not discriminate against or stigmatize people with cancer, she added.
Raising awareness about cancer
Cancer is a public health issue of concern, and on 4 February every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) joins the international community to mark World Cancer Day.
In her message to commemorate the 2023 event, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, says approximately 1.1 million new cancer cases occur each year in Africa, with about 700,000 deaths.
According to her, data estimates show a considerable increase in cancer mortality to nearly one million deaths per year by 2030 without urgent and bold interventions.
She called on Governments to develop/update national cancer control plans, provide sustainable financing, incorporate cancer care into essential benefits packages and national health insurance systems and invest in cancer registration.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, WHO, with funding from the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation, provides catalytic support to five states (Anambra, Ondo, Kebbi, Niger and Ekiti) to enable routine cervical cancer secondary prevention services across primary healthcare facilities, to reach up to 5,000 women per state.
The theme of this year is “Close the care Gap: Uniting our voices and taking action.” This year’s campaign summons the government and like-minded people to be united as we build stronger alliances and new innovative collaborations in the fight against cancer. The day reminds us that millions of deaths can be prevented by raising awareness and educating people about cancer.
Nigeria Surpasses 30% COVID-19 Vaccination Milestone
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
A new report has revealed that Nigeria has surpassed the milestone of fully vaccinating 30 per cent of its total population as a result of a sustained COVID-19 vaccination rollout in recent months.
Nigeria has maintained the COVID-19 vaccine rollout through campaigns and initiatives with the support of stakeholders, including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. COVAX, which Gavi co-leads with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), WHO and UNICEF, has supplied over 91 million COVID-19 vaccines to Nigeria (about 65 per cent of all vaccines received) and over 669 million to the African continent.
The country has also developed an integrated micro-plan featuring routine immunisation alongside COVID-19 vaccinations with a bottom-up approach taking into account individual state’s plans.
Recall that in January 2022, the country reported less than 3 per cent coverage, but dedicated efforts by the government and stakeholders in rolling out relevant strategies to sustain COVID-19 vaccination amidst competing health priorities have caused the COVID-19 vaccination milestone.
According to Gavi, key drivers behind the success of this year’s drive include leadership and improved coordination at the local, state and national levels, as well as innovation, such as the increase in mobile vaccination sites.
With more teams being supported to take the vaccines to communities rather than wait for visits to facilities, missed opportunities are being reduced.
The country also adopted a strategy to track the performance of the vaccination teams in the various states through daily call-in data. The performance of states is being ranked, and this is disseminated daily on social media and provides healthy competition across the states.
Nigeria has also set up COVID-19 Crisis Communication Centre (CRICC) at the national and state levels, ensuring targeted demand-generation activities were adopted and rolled out across the country.
The country has also integrated a service delivery approach with teams empowered to provide multiple arrays of services – COVID-19 vaccination, and routine immunization, ensuring that other key health services were not neglected.
Dr Richard Mihigo, Director of COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery, Coordination and Integration at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which leads on procurement and delivery at scale for COVAX, said, “Nigeria has become a case study on how to roll out COVID-19 vaccines at scale and speed and at the same time, catch up on routine immunization programmes.
“The country’s surveillance systems are efficient and precise, enabling monitoring of trends as well as promptly responding to counter vaccine misinformation increasing acceptability of the vaccines.”
Streamlining and Increasing Pharmacy Inventory Workflow
Pharmacies are an essential part of the healthcare system. However, managing pharmacy inventory is difficult for pharmacists due to the complexity of tracking stock levels and expiration dates. Streamlining and increasing pharmacy inventory workflows help make this process more efficient. Here are some tips that can help pharmacies maximize their inventory workflow.
Use Pharmacy Inventory Solutions
With comprehensive pharmacy inventory solutions, pharmacists will keep track of all their supplies in an organized manner. Such solutions offer a wide range of features to help streamline the inventory process and make it easier for pharmacies to manage their inventory. Features such as automated order fulfilment, real-time stock visibility, and streamlined processes help reduce mistakes and save time.
Automate Reordering Processes
Automating the reordering process is another way to increase pharmacy workflow efficiency. By automating the ordering process, pharmacies no longer have to manually place orders or check on availability when items are out of stock. This allows pharmacists to focus on more important tasks instead of wasting time on mundane administrative chores. Additionally, automated reordering systems allow better tracking and forecasting of inventory needs.
Implement Barcode Scanning
A barcode scanner is very helpful for pharmacies in tracking inventory levels and identifying items quickly. This helps to reduce errors and streamline the process of counting inventory. Barcode scanners are also used with automated reordering solutions to ensure orders are placed accurately and on time.
Additionally, barcode scanners track expiration dates and alert staff when items need to be restocked or thrown away. This way, pharmacists don’t have to worry about expired products on the shelves.
Utilize Analytics Tools
Analytics tools provide pharmacies with valuable insight into their inventory workflow and help them identify areas where they may need improvements. With analytics, pharmacists can track trends in sales data and stock levels and monitor customer buying patterns. That allows them to anticipate customer needs better and adjust their ordering processes accordingly. It also helps pharmacists track certain items’ performance and decide what products best suit their business model.
Proper Employee Training
Employees are the foundation of any successful business, and proper employee training is essential for ensuring that pharmacy inventory workflow processes are efficient. Pharmacists should ensure that their staff is properly trained to use the various systems and tools. Training should also include tips on how to keep up with stock levels, expiration dates, and drug interactions. With the right training, employees help prevent errors and save time when managing the pharmacy’s inventory.
Invest in Quality Control
Pharmacists should also invest in quality control processes to ensure that their inventory remains updated. Quality control procedures help identify discrepancies or issues with the inventory and alert staff when problems occur. This helps prevent expired items from reaching customers or mistakes made with orders. Quality control processes also help pharmacies save money by preventing waste and ensuring that items are ordered in the right quantities.
Focus on Customer Service
Finally, pharmacies should focus on providing excellent customer service. This involves ensuring that customers have accurate information about their medications and being available whenever they need help.
Pharmacists should also take the time to answer customer questions and address any concerns they may have. This way, pharmacists ensure that customers leave satisfied, leading to better sales and repeat business.
Implementing the strategies mentioned above helps streamline and increase pharmacy inventory workflow. Automating reordering processes, utilizing analytics tools, investing in quality control, and focusing on customer service are great ways to improve efficiency and increase profits. Pharmacies will operate more smoothly and efficiently with the right systems and processes.
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