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Is COVID-19 Pandemic Over? How Nigeria Can Prepare for Possible Future Pandemics

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Covid-19 pandemic

Although COVID-19 cases dropped significantly in Nigeria within the past year, cases are beginning to rise again.

Just recently, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) recently reported 347 cases of COVID-19 and Lagos alone accounts for 265 (76%). This begs the question of how ready Lagos and the entire country are to quickly curb the spread of the virus or any other epidemic that may arise.

The initial outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown showed how unprepared and unequipped the Nigerian health sector was.

Although the NCDC responded remarkably well, much more could have been better if we were prepared. At a health security policy dialogue put together by Nigerian Health Watch in Abuja recently, Peter Hawkins Country Representative of UNICEF made an impressive remark on NCDC’s response.

He said, “We can affirm that Nigeria did a remarkable job to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. NCDC for instance stretched and brought on its a-game despite the challenges in the sector. Also, many initiatives like the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) were timely interventions by the Federal Government and private institutions.”

He also added that “whilst we got several things right, much more could have been done. Knowing that the pandemic is not over, and we might be at the beginning of many other, there is a need to tighten efficiency within the sector.”

According to a WHO report, the devastating human, economic, and social cost of COVID-19 has highlighted the urgent need for coordinated action to build stronger health systems and mobilize additional resources for pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response (PPR).

World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors have also approved the establishment of a financial intermediary fund (FIF) that will finance critical investments to strengthen pandemic PPR capacities at national, regional, and global levels, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries.

It is believed that the fund will bring additional, dedicated resources for PPR, incentivize countries to increase investments, enhance coordination among partners, and serve as a platform for advocacy. This is indeed a welcome initiative!

Whilst the rest of the world is girding up and investing in the health sector to get prepared for a possible future pandemic outbreak, Nigeria must not be left behind. Here are three key things we must consider:

Increase funding for epidemic preparedness: Ifeanyi Nsofor, a public health doctor and Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute, Washington DC. Recently opined that indeed, it is cheaper to prevent and detect than to respond to an infectious disease outbreak.

COVID-19 has shown how the impacts of pandemics go beyond the health sector. He believes that a simple way to implement this is via a budget line item called “epidemic preparedness” and then defines what that covers.

He stated that, “For example, in local councils, it could cover the cost of provision of clean water in health facilities, setting up a good waste disposal system for communities, stipends for community health volunteers who are the first line in reporting infectious disease outbreaks.

“The state government’s epidemic preparedness budget could cover recruitment and deployment of different cadres of health workers to last-mile health facilities, setting up and equipping state government-owned laboratories, health communications, advocacy interventions, etc.

“The federal government should budget and allocate more funds to NCDC to support its efforts to prevent and detect infectious disease outbreaks.”

    Invest in Human resources: The level of brain drain, and the massive exodus of doctors and other medical practitioners is worrisome, especially at a time like this. The president of the Nigerian Medical Association in an interview revealed that “Over 50 per cent of our doctors are outside the country, we estimate that about 80 thousand Nigerians have been trained as doctors but only about 40 thousand are at home. And these surely are not enough and adequate.”

This is a scary figure for a country looking to improve its health sector. Also at the just concluded policy dialogue by Nigeria Health Watch, many medical experts alluded to the fact that sealing the big black hole in managing human resources in the sector is a critical part to look at as Nigeria is losing its key health personnel to other nations.

    Set up an accountability structure across all levels: Medical experts present at the policy dialogue by Nigeria Health Watch also made a charge for setting a proper accountability structure across the national and sub-national levels. It is believed that all hands must be on deck to get Nigeria Pandemic Prepared.

For instance, Ifeanyi Nsofor said “It’s both sad and amusing when you hear Nigerians rant about the health sector. The belief that only the federal government is responsible for the workings of the health sector is a great disservice to us as a nation. We must realize that Nigeria is a federation and all levels including states and local councils must be held accountable.”

Health

UK’s Aide Health Raises £1m to Tackle Hypertension, Pain

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Aide Health

By Adedapo Adesanya 

Aide Health, a London, UK-based health-tech startup, has raised £1 million in pre-seed funding.

The round was led by Hambro Perks through its EIS fund, with participation from Fuel Ventures, 1818 Ventures and APX Ventures.

In a statement made available to Business Post on Friday, the company intends to use the funds to expand its services to include hypertension and chronic pain.

Co-founded by Mr Ian Wharton (CEO) and Mr Brian Snyde, Aide Health is a digital platform that helps patients and their clinicians understand and manage long-term health conditions, such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and IBD, paired with a mobile app for the patient which acts as a co-pilot through their care.

Medical professionals can use Aide Health’s platform to remotely monitor patients with chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and IBD. Patients monitored through the app can also receive medical advice.

“Like many people, I know first-hand the frustrations of trying to manage long-term conditions,” said Mr Wharton, CEO of Aide Health.

“Our goal is to give both patients and clinicians the tools and insights they need to have better conversations and make more informed treatment decisions together,” he added.

On his part, Mr Nicholas Sharp, head of the Hambro Perks Growth EIS Fund, said: “Ian and Brian’s vision and experience impressed us from the start, and we believe that Aide Health has the potential to be a hugely important tool for both clinicians and patients for managing long-term health conditions.”

Using natural language, Aide Health has short, daily conversations to help with the day-to-day management of health conditions through medicines optimisation, structured monitoring and structured education.

The service is currently being used by the UK National Health Scheme (NHS), with a pilot launched earlier this year supporting people aged between 18-75 with asthma or type-2 diabetes.

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Health

How VerveLife Brought Lagos to a Standstill

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VerveLife

As the day dawned on Saturday, November 5, 2022, there was a palpable buzz in the cool Lagos air as thousands of fitness enthusiasts trooped to the Oniru beachfront, specifically the Landmark Event Centre, venue of the VerveLife 5.0 fitness party tagged Never Stop.

Introduced in 2017 by Verve, Africa’s leading payment technology and card and member of the Interswitch Group, VerveLife has grown into a thriving platform, attracting thousands of fitness enthusiasts from Nigeria and beyond.

As the event kicked off at 8:00 am, the dancing queen, Kaffy, opened the event with an electrifying performance in celebration of Interswitch Group’s 20th-anniversary celebrations.

For several hours after, Africa’s premium band, Alternate Sound, thrilled the crowd as attendees were engaged in upbeat dance routines and exciting workouts led by a robust lineup of fitness experts – Kemen, Ihuoma Nwigwe, Isoken Uwaifo, Enoyong, Trebla, Kenyan fitness instructor Alvin Lee, and South African fitness royalty, Queen Fitnass.

In line with the VerveLife 5.0 theme, ‘Never Stop’, there was even more fun to come as other musical acts came on stage to thrill the audience. First was Crayon, who doled out his hit songs one after the other. Just as the audience thought they had had just enough for one day, Niniola hit the stage, and the hall went berserk again, dancing to several of her hit tunes.

At this point, the event was best described as an inexhaustible bar of fun, entertainment and good sweat.

The VeveLife 5.0 experience included a series of build-up events spanning over 12 weeks across eight Nigerian cities and Nairobi, Kenya and culminating in the Lagos grand finale.  Beyond the invigorating fitness routines, games and fun, the overwhelming crowd gave proof to the growing impact the VerveLife Fitness events have been making over the years.

Verve is the leading indigenous payment technology and card brand in Africa, offering simple and cutting-edge payment solutions. Through the VerveLife fitness events, the brand continues to serve as a platform that encourages Africans to maintain a healthy lifestyle through enjoyable and stimulating activities.

This year’s VerveLife fitness event has lived up to its promise of keeping Verve cardholders, and Africans fit and steering them on the path of healthy living while fostering a community of fitness enthusiasts.

Following the resounding success of VerveLife 5.0, one cannot but wonder what to expect from VerveLife 6.0!

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Health

Africa Records High Undiagnosed Diabetes—WHO

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Diabetes

By Adedapo Adesanya

The World Health Organisation (WHO), in a new analysis, has revealed that only 46 per cent of people living with diabetes in the African region know their status, raising the risk of severe illness and death, potentially worsening the situation in the region, which already has the world’s highest mortality rates due to the disease.

This is because only 55 per cent of people with diabetes know they have diabetes as the world celebrates World Diabetes Day. This year’s event is being marked today under the theme Access to Care which calls for better access to quality diabetes care as well as the importance of prevention and response.

The global health authority noted that the African region, lack of testing facilities and equipment, inadequate number of trained health personnel, poor access to health facilities, and lack of awareness about diabetes are some of the barriers to diabetes testing.

Currently, 24 million adults are living with diabetes in Africa. The figure is projected to rise by 129 per cent to 55 million by 2045.

In the African region, premature deaths from diabetes (defined as deaths occurring before the age of 70) stand at 58 per cent, higher than the global average of 48 per cent, while the region’s age-standardized death rate (a mathematical adjustment of different populations to have the same structure) for diabetes is 48 per 100 000 population, more than double the global rate of 23 per 100 000. In the region, only one in two people living with type 1 diabetes—the most common form of pediatric diabetes—has access to insulin treatment.

Speaking on this, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said, “One of the greatest challenges to diabetes care is lack of diagnosis. Without testing, diabetes becomes a silent killer.

“While countries face several barriers to tackling diabetes, the rising prevalence of the disease is a wakeup call to reinforce health care, improve diagnosis, access to life-saving diabetes medicines, and prioritize diabetes as a major health challenge.”

For the first time ever, countries agreed in May 2022 to key global targets to improve diabetes diagnosis and access to equitable, comprehensive, affordable, and quality treatment and care.

The goals contained in the WHO Global Diabetes Compact aim to have 80 per cent of people living with diabetes diagnosed; 80 per cent of people diagnosed with the disease have good control of blood pressure and blood sugar.

Additionally, countries should strive to ensure all those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes have access to affordable insulin and blood glucose self-monitoring and that 60 per cent of people with diabetes aged 40 years and above have access to cholesterol-lowering drugs. People living with diabetes have a higher risk of hypertension and are prone to high cholesterol—a risk factor for cardiovascular disease—than those without diabetes.

For people living with diabetes, access to affordable treatment, including insulin, is critical to their survival. Limited access to insulin puts their lives in danger. In rural Mozambique, for instance, the life expectancy of a child with type 1 diabetes is as low as seven months. Type 1 diabetes is due to the body’s inability to produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar.

Between 2011 and 2021, the region recorded a five-fold rise in type 1 diabetes among children and teenagers below 19 years, with cases surging from 4 per 1000 children to nearly 20 per 1000.

WHO is supporting African countries to improve their diabetes response. In August 2022, African health ministers endorsed a WHO-led initiative called PEN Plus to increase access to diagnosis, treatment, and care of severe chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mental and neurotological disorders.

The strategy calls on countries to adopt measures ensuring that essential medicines, technologies and diagnostics are available and accessible at district hospitals. Only 36 per cent of countries in the African region have essential medicines for chronic diseases in public hospitals, according to a 2019 WHO survey.

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