By Ahmed Rahma
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its weekly report said it has been notified by Japan about new variant of the COVID-19 in travellers from Brazil.
According to the agency, it was notified on January 9 of the new variant detected in four travellers arriving from Brazil. The strain was found in two adults and two children.
The report stated that the variant has 12 mutations to the spike protein, including three mutations of concern in common with VOC 202012/01 and 501Y.V2 which may impact transmissibility and host immune response.
WHO said researchers in Brazil had additionally reported the emergence of a similar variant, which had likely evolved independently of the variant detected in Japan.
“The extent and public health significance of these new variants require further investigation,” the report said.
At a meeting of 1,750 international scientists held by the agency on Tuesday to discuss critical knowledge gaps and research priorities for emerging variants, WHO’s research and development chief, Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, said, “Our collective goal is to get ahead of the game and have a global mechanism to quickly identify and study variants of concern and understand their implications for disease control efforts.”
WHO said the new variants showed the importance of increasing diagnostic capacity and systematic sequencing of the virus.
“Research is ongoing to determine the impact of new variants on transmission, disease severity as well as any potential impacts on vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics,” the organisation said.
The agency also said the variant first found in Britain has now spread to 50 territories, while a similar South African-identified strain has now been found in 20 countries, adding that the wider the spread of SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 diseases, the more the variants should be expected.
Since first being reported to the WHO on December 14, 2020, the British-identified variant VOC 202012/01 has been found in 50 countries, territories and areas, the agency said.
“The more the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change. High levels of transmission mean that we should expect more variants to emerge.
“Test results showed the age and sex distribution was similar to that of other circulating variants, while contact tracing data revealed “higher transmissibility (secondary attack rates) where the index case has the variant strain.
“The South African-identified variant 501Y.V2, first reported on December 18, has now been detected in 20 countries, territories and areas.
“From preliminary and ongoing investigations in South Africa, it is possible that the 501Y.V2 variant is more transmissible than variants circulating in South Africa previously.
“Moreover, while this new variant does not appear to cause more severe illness, the observed rapid increases in case numbers have placed health systems under pressure,” stated the report.
According to the organisation, the geographical spread of both variants is likely underestimated, given a bias towards detection in countries with virus sequencing capacity.
NAFDAC to Register Chemical Manufacturers
By Adedapo Adesanya
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is set to register and certify premises of chemical manufacturers in order to boost the nation’s economy.
This was disclosed by the agency through its media consultant, Mr Olusayo Akintola.
He disclosed that the Director-General of NAFDAC, Mrs Mojisola Adeyeye, stressed the importance of having details of chemical manufacturers in the country at a virtual stakeholders’ meeting with the chemical makers.
According to him, it was also agreed with manufacturers of chemical products in Nigeria to explore the international market with chemical products to enhance the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.
Mrs Adeyeye said that the product would also serve as a potent catalyst for industrial growth, adding that the current focus of the NAFDAC management was to ensure the agency’s regulatory activities were in line with international best practices.
She said that the aim of the stakeholders meeting was to sensitise, enlighten and create awareness on the current trends in the regulation of the manufacture of chemicals with emphasis on the need to be listed as a chemical manufacturer in Nigeria.
The NAFDAC boss noted that the chemical evaluation and research directorate has the mandate to ensure that only the right quality chemicals are manufactured, imported, exported, distributed, sold and used in Nigeria.
Mrs Adeyeye also disclosed that the directorate has put in place effective regulations and guidelines for sound chemical management in Nigeria.
She said that this was achieved by ensuring proper utilisation of chemicals in a manner that reduces risk to health and the environment.
Mrs Adeyeye said the agency also advocates the use of chemicals that are less harmful and hazardous, adding that a portal has been created by the agency for registration of chemical products for strict adherence to international best practices.
She further said that chemical products manufactured in Nigeria would enjoy wider acceptability and high competitiveness with the NAFDAC registration identity.
According to her, penetrating the international market will bring growth to the industry, and more Nigerians will secure employment opportunities sequel to the expected expansion in the operations of the manufacturers.
‘’Chemicals no doubt play a pivotal role in the economic development of any country, Nigeria as an economy in transition has many needs of chemicals for her numerous industries.
“Some of these chemicals are now manufactured in the country and this creates an environment of heightened concern that NAFDAC is expected to play a leading role in strengthening chemical safety and security.
“The NAFDAC Act empowers the agency to undertake appropriate investigations into production premises and raw materials for food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, bottled water and chemicals.
“The Act also empowered the agency to establish relevant quality assurance systems, including certificates of the production sites and of the regulated products,” she said.
Mrs Adeyeye said that the law also compels all handlers of chemicals to adhere strictly to all the stipulated guidelines for sound chemical management in order to safeguard the health and protect the environment.
According to her, this underscores the reason the agency communicate any change in regulations to stakeholders.
She disclosed that listing of chemical manufacturers was initiated to address the existing gap in the regulation of the manufacture of chemicals in Nigeria, adding that manufacturers required to be listed as a chemical manufacturer.
Mrs Adeyeye said that those involved in the manufacture of speciality chemicals, laboratory chemicals, industrial chemicals, inks, paints, adhesives, wood preservatives, polishers, cleaning chemicals, agrochemicals, biocides, fertilizers and others also need to be listed.
She noted that the use of chemicals has increased geometrically in the past years in Nigeria resulting in an increase in local manufacturing capabilities.
Mrs Adeyeye said that the increase in production has led to the growth in the chemical industry in Nigeria and that the safe and secured management of chemical in the manufacturing sector was an issue that requires a collaborative effort between the regulators and the industries.
On his part, Mr Pieter De-Konnick, a Belgian, who is the Managing Director of Brenntag Chemical Nigeria Limited, producers of liquid caustic Soda, commended NAFDAC for the initiatives.
According to Mr De-Konnick, NAFDAC’s involvement in regulating the chemical manufacturing sector will bring it to the limelight and reposition Nigeria chemical industry for economic growth.
“This is my eighth year in Nigeria; this is the best thing that has happened to me in this industry, the NAFDAC is wonderful in its drive to regulate this industry,” he said.
The Chief Executive Officer of Unikem Industries Limited, producers of Ethanol from cassava, Mr Uzor Kalu and Mr Paul Audu, Managing Director of Roychem Industries Limited, said that the hitherto bottlenecks in procuring NAFDAC Import Permit have disappeared.
They both noted that since Adeyeye became NAFDAC boss, import permit and removal certificates were often done easily and have a plan to activate the year.
The introduction of an online platform via an electronic process by the Adeyeye-led administration had made application and processing of the vital import documents completed in the last quarter of every year, while manufacturers already have the documentation done in readiness for the new year.
AXA Mansard Offers Mobile Health Insurance via Airtel
By Aduragbemi Omiyale
Buying a health insurance policy has now been made easier by a leading telecommunications services provider, Airtel Nigeria, as a result of a strategic partnership with a foremost healthcare service provider, AXA Mansard Insurance Plc.
The collaboration between both organisations is aimed to deepen access, participation and enrolment in health insurance for more Nigerians.
Business Post gathered that with the deal, customers can now simply dial *987*7# on their Airtel number to enrol for affordable and robust mobile health insurance plans from AXA Mansard.
It was learned that this initiative is in response to the federal government’s goal, through the National Health Insurance Scheme, to provide easy access to healthcare for all Nigerians by leveraging on the USSD channel, an easy-to-use and interactive platform.
“Airtel Nigeria is always exploring innovative ways and platforms that will make life easier, more meaningful and more enjoyable for Nigerians.
“With this initiative, we are not just delivering bespoke health insurance services to the doorstep of more people, we are also leading a quiet revolution that will drive and deepen health insurance inclusion by removing the many barriers that have hitherto excluded many well-meaning Nigerians from participating in the sector,” the Head of Mobile Financial Services at Airtel Nigeria, Mr Muyiwa Ebitanmi, said.
Insurance penetration in Nigeria is still low and this is because of various factors like implementation of health insurance schemes, low level of awareness, affordability, ineffective distribution systems and inefficient payment models.
The partnership between Airtel Nigeria and AXA Mansard is aimed at solving these challenges and assisting Nigerians to access a viable health insurance scheme as subscribers will have access to over 1,000 hospitals nationwide for quality healthcare services.
Malaria cover, inpatient, outpatient, specialist medical consultations, immunizations, family planning, ambulance services, dental care and more are some of the covers provided in the AXA Mansard Health plans.
“Our research has shown the value and importance of having a health insurance plan to the public especially for the emerging customers in the country, but for many reasons, the uptake of insurance products has been low,” the Head of Emerging Customers and Digital Partnerships Group at AXA Mansard, Mr Alfred Egbai, commented on the transaction.
He further said, “In order to mitigate these challenges and satisfy the health needs of the retail consumer whilst also encouraging the uptake of health insurance in the country, we have partnered with Airtel Nigeria to provide a solution that gives users a convenient way to purchase and manage their AXA Mansard micro-insurance plans.
Helium Health Extends Footprint to Kenyan Market
By Adedapo Adesanya
Nigerian startup, Helium Health, an electronic medical records (EMR) and hospital management information (HMI) systems provider, has announced the launch of its full suite of products and services in Kenya.
This is coming more than a year after the startup closed a $10 million Series A funding round in May 2020 to expand its services in both new and existing markets, launching operations in East, North, and Francophone West Africa.
Now, moving into East Africa with a Kenyan launch, the company has entered into a partnership with three local providers, including Philips Healthcare Technologies.
Speaking on the development, Mr Tito Ovia, co-founder of Helium Health said, “We have been planning to expand into Kenya’s thriving health-tech sector since last year.
“So, we’re very excited to be hitting the ground running in 2021, already working with three new local partners to help improve efficiencies and provide a better service to patients.
“We believe there is a great opportunity to harness cutting-edge technology to help improve the way healthcare data is gathered and managed across Africa, so partnering with like-minded healthcare providers and facilities in Kenya is an excellent fit for us.”
The Country Manager for Helium Health Kenya, Jean Kyula, a former National Health Service (NHS) doctor in the UK added, “We are confident that we can play a major role in supporting both Kenya’s public and private healthcare sectors.
“We are delighted to announce that we are open for business, already working with three new partners in Nairobi, and rolling out in Uganda and Liberia.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role of technology in healthcare, and the need to keep building better systems, develop more remote access solutions, and improve efficiencies in our healthcare sector, so we’re looking forward to working with more partners, doctors, hospitals, and clinics as we move forward.”
Launched in 2016 by three entrepreneurs, Adegoke Olobusi, Tito Ovia and Dimeji Sofowora, Helium Health offers a full suite of products covering the complete healthcare value chain, from Electronic Medical Records (EMR), and Hospital Management Information (HMI) Systems, to credit and telemedicine products.
Over 300 healthcare providers and 5,000 health professionals in Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana currently use Helium Health’s technology.
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