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Nigeria’s Curacel Gets $450,000 Pre-Seed Funding

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Curacel

By Modupe Gbadeyanka

The sum of $450,000 has been secured by a Nigerian insurtech start-up, Curacel, in a pre-seed funding round.

The pre-seed round was led by Atlantica Ventures and Consonance with participation from Kepple Ventures and other African angel investors.

The funding package will help the company deepen insurance penetration in Nigeria and Africa at large, Business Post gathered.

Insurance is one sector many Nigerians have not fully embraced because of several factors, including religious beliefs, difficulty in claims, amongst others.

This is where Curacel has come to change the narrative, especially in healthcare insurance but ensuring that hospitals get payments for services rendered to policyholders.

The new fund raised by the company is expected to help the company expand its operations with the use of technology.

Since its inception about three years ago, Curacel has worked with top insurance companies in the country like Old Mutual, AXA Mansard Insurance, Hallmark HMO, amongst others but it intends to reach other African nations.

Curacel uses its Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered platform to allow insurers to automate claims seamlessly and also track fraud, waste and abuse (FWA).

Already, the company has helped its clients reduce FWA claims payouts by up to 25 per cent and saved a total of $320,000. It has also processed more than 700,000 claims and has the capacity to process an infinite number.

“We are excited to have these investors on board and we are looking forward to partnering with them to drive our vision of improving insurance inclusion across Africa,” the co-founder and chief executive officer of Curacel, Mr Henry Mascot, commented.

“At Curacel, we are uniquely positioned to safeguard livelihoods and increase the quality of life through our unique, market-leading products and services,” Mr Mascot added.

Modupe Gbadeyanka is a fast-rising journalist with Business Post Nigeria. Her passion for journalism is amazing. She is willing to learn more with a view to becoming one of the best pen-pushers in Nigeria. Her role models are the duo of CNN's Richard Quest and Christiane Amanpour.

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Russia Partners India, South Korea to Produce Vaccines

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RDIF CEO Kirill Dmitriev Russia

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

With a strong structured plan and that includes President Vladimir Putin weekly meetings with regional governors and related ministry officials, Russia is making headway in mobilising first its own domestic resources in fighting and controlling the coronavirus pandemic.

Under these time-testing conditions, the Russian government also ponders on the necessity to adopt a concerted approach to the economic sectors related to the public health system, making efforts to strengthen fundamental research in all health disciplines and close the pitfalls in its policy.

Arguably, Russia is really moving with innovative orientations, exploring to find lasting solutions. Without doubts, Russia is far ahead, both in terms of medical tests and vaccines. Currently, it is partnering with India and South Korea in manufacturing vaccines for the immunization of both foreigners and Russians.

“India and South Korea are already producing the vaccine, and many of these enterprises will reach full capacity in April. Thus, this is truly the greatest achievement of Russian science, which is widely acknowledged by the entire world,” CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev told Russian President Vladimir Putin during an early April meeting to review developments as well as production and promotion of Russian vaccines.

In addition, he informed the president that RDIF and its partners are actively working with Russian manufacturers, it took three months to build Sputnik Technopolis, one of the largest plants to produce the vaccine, and together with R-Pharm. Russia is setting up international production per agreements with 10 countries and 20 manufacturers, including the world’s largest producers.

Beyond that, the Russian Direct Investment Fund is actively implementing a programme, of course, with a focus on vaccinating Russian citizens, but part of the vaccine produced abroad will simultaneously be delivered to foreign markets, according to Dmitriev.

According to his assessment, Russia is not only one of the current leaders in the world in terms of vaccination rate, but it can provide vaccines to all people in Russia who want to be vaccinated before June using the production capacities in Russia and abroad.

“As I understood from talking to experts, our vaccine is effective against all known strains of the virus,” Putin commented during the discussion, and Kirill Dmitriev smartly added that “due to the two jabs, it is better than the other vaccines as relates to mutations. We believe that our vaccine is one of the best in the world, including against new strains of COVID-19.”

Reports show that Russia has produced 20.1 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine as of March 17, while 4.3 million people, out of a population of 144 million, have received both shots of the vaccine.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, at 225,572, the total coronavirus-related death toll places Russia third after the United States, which has reported over 553,000 deaths, and Brazil, with over 325,000.

According to the Russian Statistics Service, this April Russia has recorded over 225,000 deaths related to coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. That Russia has the third-highest death toll in the world.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 by the Russian government to make investments in leading companies of high-growth sectors of the Russian economy. Its mandate is to co-invest alongside the world’s largest institutional investors – direct investment funds, sovereign wealth funds and leading companies.

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NCDC Raises Alarm over Rising Cases of Cholera in Nigeria

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Cholera Outbreak

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has raised alarm over suspected rising cases of cholera in Nigeria.

This disclosure was made by the NCDC Director-General, Mr Chikwe Ihekweazu, on Tuesday in Abuja, while giving updates about the disease.

According to him, the national multi-agency cholera Technical Working Group (TWG) at the agency is monitoring the situation in eight states, where there are reports of suspected cholera cases.

Dr Ihekweazu said as at March, Benue, Delta, Zamfara, Gombe State, Bayelsa, Kogi, Sokoto State and Nasarawa State have reported suspected cholera cases.

Cholera is an endemic and seasonal disease, occurring annually mostly during the rainy season and more often in areas with poor sanitation, overcrowding, lack of clean food and water, and areas where open defecation is common practice.

”As of March 28, a total of 1,746 suspected cases including 50 deaths with a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) that is 2.9 per cent have been reported from Benue, Delta, Zamfara, Gombe, Bayelsa, Kogi, Sokoto and Nasarawa.

”Of the confirmed cases, 63.2 per cent were aged five to 14 years.

”Also of the suspected cases, 48 per cent were females and 52 per cent were males,” he said.

The director-general said that there has been a gradual increase in the number of new cases in the last two weeks.

”Zamfara accounts for about 100 per cent of cases reported in the last two weeks.

“A total of 75 samples were collected out of which 49 tested positive.

”The Test Positivity Rate (TPR) for laboratory confirmation by culture is 14.7 per cent,” he said.

“Most people infected with cholera do not develop any symptoms, although the bacteria are present in their faeces for 1-10 days after infection and are shed back into the environment, potentially infecting other people.

“Among people who develop symptoms, the majority have mild or moderate symptoms, while a minority develop acute watery diarrhoea with severe dehydration. This can lead to death if left untreated,” he explained.

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SERAP Sues Buhari Over Failure to Probe Missing N3.8bn Health Fund

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SERAP

By Adedapo Adesanya

In another round of efforts to push for transparency, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against President Muhammadu Buhari over his alleged failure to probe allegations that the sum of N3.8 billion is missing in the country’s health sector.

SERAP claimed that the alleged missing public fund is meant for the Federal Ministry of Health, teaching hospitals, medical centres, and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

The alleged missing fund was revealed in a 2018 audited report recently released by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.

The suit is coming in the wake of the controversy over Buhari’s travel to London for a routine medical check-up at a time the country’s resident doctors are on strike over unpaid salaries, upward review of hazard allowances, and COVID-19 care incentives, leaving millions of poor Nigerians without access to medical treatment.

In suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/433/2021 filed last week at the Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP is seeking “an order of mandamus directing and compelling President Buhari to investigate alleged missing N3.8bn health funds, and to promptly investigate the extent and patterns of widespread corruption in the Federal Ministry of Health, teaching hospitals, medical centres and NAFDAC.”

SERAP argued that “Corruption in the health sector exacerbates inequality in already unequal and unfair political, social, and economic environments, and produces a ‘cash and carry’ health care system based on one’s ability to pay for care or one’s political position.”

“Transparency and accountability in the management of health funds is essential for promoting access of people living in poverty to physical and mental healthcare, satisfactory health conditions, equality and non-discrimination, development, as well as good governance and the rule of law.

“The failure to investigate the alleged missing health funds, bring suspected perpetrators to justice, and to recover any missing public funds has exposed millions of poor Nigerians to serious health risks, amounting to violations of constitutional and international human rights and anti-corruption obligations,” it added.

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Jigawa Records Second Highest Takers of COVID-19 Vaccine

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Invest Jigawa Roundtable

By Adedapo Adesanya

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has disclosed that Jigawa State recorded the second-highest takers of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines in Nigeria after Lagos State.

In a press release, the world health body noted that Jigawa has the second-highest turnout for the vaccine.

According to WHO, authorities in the North-Western state of the federation received 68,520 doses of the vaccine and 33,508 persons have been vaccinated by March 29. The state has recorded 518 of the 162,593 COVID-19 cases in Nigeria by the same date.

“Only two weeks into the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in Nigeria, Jigawa State is recording impressive results as authorities accelerate efforts to distribute doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, millions of which are available across Nigeria.

“The vaccines were delivered to the country from the Serum Institute of India(SII) in early March,” the release noted.

According to Mr Hassan Shaibu Kwallam, the State Immunization Officer, the state had to face some challenges as there were claims of vaccines causing infertility in women while others have claimed that vaccines will be administered to the country’s political elite only.

But working with local communities, the state has overcome a huge part of the fear, state officials noted.

Getting Jigawa’s residents to turn out was possible largely due to the influence of traditional and religious leaders, according to Mr Kwallam.

“Our strategy has been a very simple one. We have the buy-in of the local health workers and we also have the cooperation of the traditional leaders. That has made the vaccination process go smoothly,” he added.

Nigeria received 3.9 million vaccines in March out of an expected 84 million doses through the COVAX Facility, co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations(CEPI), in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Bank, and other partners. COVAX is one pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global collaboration to hasten production and fair access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.

An additional 41.3 million vaccine doses through the Africa vaccine acquisition task team(AVATT) and the African Union are expected in April.

Testimonies

On a recent weekday, community health worker, Mrs Balkisu Yahaya, bared her arm and felt the small prick of the needle as she got her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from a colleague. In return, Hajiya Balkisu vaccinated her colleague too. The two are health workers deployed as vaccination teams to immunise against the COVID-19 disease in Nigeria’s Jigawa State and are some of the first to get the jab.

“I have taken the first dose and I am now very very happy,” Hajiya Balkisu, who works at the Sakwaya Primary Healthcare Center in Dutse, the capital, said. “It’s good so I can protect myself first before protecting others.”

Mrs Balkisu says the turn out signifies some vaccination success despite instances of Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy among some residents.

Since the start of the pandemic last year, unfounded theories about the origin of COVID-19 as well as rumours about the vaccine’s safety have spread widely across the internet and social media space in Nigeria.

When it was time for His Royal Highness, the Emir of Hadejia to get his first jab on a recent Monday, he did it publicly, opting to take the vaccine at the Hadejia General Hospital in the Hadejia Local Government Area (LGA) where many in his community could see. After the Emir received the injection, he held up his green vaccine card, with a QR code stamped on it, for proof.

“I hope to dispel the rumours that a different vaccine, safer and more potent, is being administered to only very important personalities,” the Emir said. “Coming out like this will build trust and confidence in the minds of many that harbour this misconception and will lead to a higher turn-out for vaccine rollout. I am sure of it.”

Mr Ahmed Mohammed Sani, Emir of Gumel who received his vaccine last Wednesday says partnerships between local leaders and health workers increase chances of success when it comes to immunisation.

“I am presenting my humble self for the COVID-19 vaccination before all so everybody can do the same,” the Emir said.

“What we, as an emirate had successfully done during the polio eradication initiative, is a clear testimony of our sustained ability to convince our communities in support of any public health interventions brought up by the government.”

Only health workers like Mrs Balkisu and traditional leaders were targeted for the first phase of the roll-out, to protect health personnel and build trust among communities.

WHO noted that phase two (which targets adults aged 50 and older) and then phase three (for ages between 18 and 49) are due to have commenced. Those who successfully receive their first jabs are expected to take their second doses after 12 weeks.

No Need for Fear

Back in Jigawa, Mrs Balkisu said she has had to convince many that the slight fever some feel after taking the vaccine was normal – she felt it too and it went away in a day, she added.

Dr Sunday Audu, WHO Jigawa state coordinator echoed her message. “There is no reason for hesitancy. There have been no reports of any serious Adverse Effect Following Immunization (AEFI) in the state. It is only a minor inconvenience but it would be beneficial for more people to get their doses so we can protect ourselves and our neighbours.”

WHO has supported in training the 162 vaccination teams deployed across the 27 LGAs of Jigawa and added that it will continue supporting the coordination, training, monitoring and supervision of health care workers till all doses are used up.

“I will advise my colleagues and everyone else to put their mind at rest,” Mrs Balkisu added as she attended to people waiting to be vaccinated. “Don’t think too much about the inconvenience of the jab. Just relax and you will be fine. It’s much less painful than contracting Covid-19 and falling sick.”

Like Polio, Like COVID-19

It’s not the first time Jigawa has successfully immunized thousands despite some pockets of hesitancy, health authorities say. When the Polio disease was endemic in Nigeria and parents were reluctant to get their wards vaccinated, health workers also turned to traditional and religious leaders for advocacy support. This culminated in the huge success recorded in 2020 when Nigeria was declared polio-free after years of fighting the disease.

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Nigeria to Get 70m Johnson & Johnson Single-Shot COVID-19 Vaccines

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Johnson Johnson vaccine

By Adedapo Adesanya

Nigeria is expected to get 70 million Johnson and Johnson (J&J) single-shot COVID-19 vaccines, following the African Union deal with the drugmaker for 400 million vaccine doses.

This was disclosed by the head of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, in an interview with Reuters, noting that the vaccines will come in batches with an initial 30 million J&J vaccines to be delivered in July.

“We’re hoping that we’ll be able to get up to 70 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson this year. This is yet to be finalised but these are some of the advanced conversations that are going on between Nigeria and the African Union,” he said.

He also disclosed that there was the possibility that the vaccine option, which is single-shot, may replace the AstraZeneca-Oxford variant due to constraints to its vaccine value chain.

“Some of the allocations that we were supposed to get for the AstraZeneca will be replaced by the Johnson and Johnson,” Dr Faisal said.

Business Post had on Monday reported that the American pharmaceutical giant is set to provide up to 400 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to African countries.

J&J through its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceutica, had entered into an agreement with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to initially make available up to 220 million doses of its vaccine to the continent.

AVAT can order an additional 180 million doses for a combined total of up to 400 million doses through 2022.

J&J says its vaccine candidate protects against COVID-19 in broad geographical regions — including those with new variants of the virus.

In a global trial of almost 40,000 people, the J&J vaccine’s efficacy against the severe disease was 85.4 per cent, but it fell to 66.1 per cent when including moderate forms of the disease.

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Health

FG Warns Nigerians Against Inappropriate Treatment of Malaria

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Malaria

By Adedapo Adesanya

The federal government has advised Nigerians to undergo tests before taking an anti-malarial drug because not all fevers are symptoms of malaria.

This warning was made by the Chief Community Development Officer, Advocacy Communication and Social Mobilisation guidelines (ACSM), National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP), Mrs Chinelo Ogbodo, at the review meeting of the ACSM guideline, in Akwanga, Nasarawa State.

According to Mrs Ogbodo, the government was hopeful that by 2025, through its sensitisation programmes, every Nigerian would have understood the meaning, causes, treatment and preventive measures for malaria.

She said that the guideline was a document that detailed the planning, coordination and implementation of ACSM activities to guide increasing awareness about malaria and develop activities that would help increase the demand for malaria products and services.

The expert charged Nigerians to test every fever and know its cause before treatment, saying, “Malaria is one of the so many conditions that could lead to fever in an individual.”

“So, you need to run a test; every individual presenting symptoms of malaria or fever must be tested before you give them antimalarial drugs, when they test positive,” Mrs Ogbodo added.

”Nigerians must understand that malaria is not common, there are various types and levels of the disease, like complicated and uncomplicated malaria, we also have severe malaria.

”When you treat fever with malaria drugs, without going for a test before treatment, you have succeeded in treating blindly without knowing what you are treating or the level of what you are treating,” she further stated.

”When somebody has malaria and treats without testing, he or she has abused the drugs because you do not know the level of malaria you are treating. When death occurs as a result of malaria, people term it as witchcraft or spiritual causes,” she said.

Adding her input, Mrs Samuel Owoya, on behalf of NMEP, advised Nigerians to sleep under the Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs) every night, as she cited malaria as a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the country.

She explained that Nigerians must adopt the right health-seeking behaviour for the elimination of malaria.

Nigeria, she explained, had adopted the use of LLINs as one of its interventions for malaria prevention, and it was recommended that every person should sleep under the LLIN every night.

Mrs Owoya said that LLINs were a type of mosquito net that had been treated with insecticides that repel and kill mosquitoes, adding that LLINs were safe and effective in protecting oneself and family members against malaria.

She said that when correctly used, an LLIN every night significantly reduced a person’s risk of being infected with malaria, in addition to saving the time and money spent on treating malaria.

”To use and care for your LLIN, tuck the LLIN under your mat, mattress or bed, sew if torn, and wash with bar soap if dirty. Do not use LLINs for fishing or covering crops or animals,” she said.

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