By Kester Kenn Klomegah
In these difficult and crucial times, the strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy, declared Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister.
The difficult times understandably refer to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the current period when Russia’s own “special military operation” in Ukraine has shattered the global economy.
But why is Russia very quiet over its vaccine diplomacy in Africa? What have Russia-African Union relations brought to the health sector in Africa? Why Russia’s vaccine diplomacy could arguably be described as a failure for vulnerable groups and vaccinable people among the 1.3 billion population.
The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) estimated approximately 28 per cent of the entire African population was vaccinated over the past two years. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and a few African leaders have vehemently accused European and Western countries with advanced pharmaceutical technologies of hoarding COVID-19 vaccines.
Russia was the first advanced country that came out with Sputnik V in August 2020, in fact, less than a year when coronavirus was declared an epidemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). But Sputnik V has never been approved by the WHO primarily because of a lack of transparency of Russian laboratories in addition to the fact that it was approved before going into compulsory phase III clinical trials, breached relevant international protocols and ruined its reputation from the outset, and further in Russia as demonstrated by a high degree of vaccine hesitancy.
The Sputnik V was developed by the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology. It was later registered under the emergency use authorization procedure, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (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. The Kremlin offered this agency the full-fledged task of managing and directing all aspects of COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution.
The RDIF has made a substantial contribution to developing and marketing Sputnik V, the first registered COVID-19 vaccine, in the world. Sputnik V was heavily promoted via a professional international marketing campaign and Russia obtained commercial contracts for close to 800 million doses of Sputnik V. Russia has only delivered 108 million doses, i.e. less than 15%.
In the first place, Sputnik V has little impact in Africa. Second, there is no African country manufacturing Sputnik V so far. In fact, Russia signed manufacturing agreements with no less than 23 countries to produce Sputnik V. However, only a few countries actually started production due to delays in the supply of raw materials. As one of very few countries, Russia stayed completely outside the COVAX Facility and it played no significant role in vaccine donations.
Holding the heck of the bumpy road during the pandemic period, Russia made progressive steps, resembling a substantial breakthrough to save human extinction. It swiftly registered the vaccine in many countries and often promised to establish manufacturing points in a number of countries, including Africa. But in critical assessment, we cannot skip the messy description, from various points of view, that Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has failed Africa. Certainly, that was the case with Russia’s diplomacy in Africa.
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.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry reports indicated that the Sputnik V vaccine was 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.
However, the 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.
Russia’s drive to share the Sputnik V vaccine offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. It has made some vaccine deliveries by sprinkling a few thousands, but only to its preferred countries including North Africa (Algeria Morocco and Egypt), East Africa (Ethiopia), Southern Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe) and West Africa (Guinea). Media reports say, South Africa, a member of the BRICS group, categorically rejected the Sputnik V donation from Russia.
Furthermore, 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 could attain a target immunization of 60% – received an offer of 300 million Sputnik V vaccines from the Russian Federation. It was described as a “special offer” from Russia. In the end, Russia never delivered the 300 million vaccines as contracted.
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 in November 2021, pointed to Russia’s consistent failure in honoring its several pledges over the years. That report vividly highlighted contracts to supply Russian-made vaccines to Africa that were not fulfilled through the African Union. “Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers failed to meet its contractual obligations,” says the report.
Another report also compared Russia’s vaccine diplomacy with Europe, China and other external countries: (https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/vaccinating-world-between-promises-and-realities_en). The report says one and a half years after the start of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the European Union (EU) can be proud of what it has achieved to help vaccinate the world, and in particular low- and middle-income countries. The EU’s record stands in contrast to what China and Russia did beyond the bluster of their noisy “vaccine diplomacy” during these years.
In 2021, the subject was not only dominating the headlines but also at the centre of international relations, with major powers, in particular China and Russia, conducting active vaccine diplomacy to extend their global influence by promising to provide vaccines to the world. From the outset, the EU had chosen to act in a multilateral framework, by supporting the COVAX facility launched by the WHO to jointly purchase and supply vaccines to low and middle-income countries.
The report says, based on data collected by the multilateral institutions, the EU has actually been by far the largest exporter of vaccines in the world. With 2.2 billion doses supplied to 167 countries, we exported almost twice as many vaccines as China, three times as much as the United States and 20 times as much as Russia.
Of these 2.2 billion exported doses, 475 million were donated to 104 countries, of which 405 million via COVAX and 70 million bilaterally, particularly in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership. In terms of donations, the United States did slightly more than the EU, with 542 million doses donated to 117 countries. But the EU has actually donated far more vaccines than China – with just 130 million to 95 countries – and Russia – with only 1.5 million doses to 19 countries.
The EU has not only exported and donated vaccines but also helped to develop vaccine production in Africa: last year, the EU with its member states and financial institutions committed over one billion euros to finance this development.
By 2040, the African Union wants that 60% of the vaccines used on the continent are manufactured in Africa and the EU fully supports that goal. This year already, two factories will be installed in Rwanda and Senegal and commercial production is set to begin in 2023. Close cooperation is also ongoing with South Africa’s Biovac Institute and partners in Ghana.
In these difficult and crucial times, Russian vaccine diplomacy has been a total failure and this was already the case before its “special military operation” in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine. In short, the vaccine diplomacy of these two countries, Russia and China, can be summarized as “great expectations – broken promises.”
The EU has a lot to be proud of, not only did it manage to vaccinate its own population against Covid-19 in a short period of time, but it has also been the world’s largest exporter of vaccines and the second largest donor to low- and middle-income countries. The EU has accomplished much more in this area than China and Russia together. Building on this solid track record, the EU will continue to support access to vaccines worldwide, particularly by helping with vaccine manufacturing in Africa.
mPharma Launches Programme to Tackle Hypertension in Nigeria, Others
By Adedapo Adesanya
mPharma has launched the Hypertension Test and Treat programme (HTT) to support the prevention and control of hypertension in Africa.
Heart disease is one of the greatest causes of premature death in Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the prevalence of hypertension is highest in the African region, with about 46 per cent of adults aged 25 years and older being hypertensive compared to 35 per cent in the Americas and other HIC and 40 per cent elsewhere in the world.
The HTT programme will be delivered through the company’s network of mutti pharmacies in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia, with plans to expand the service to other countries.
The programme would aim to identify different classes of people, those at risk for hypertension, those who are about to develop hypertension and those who are already living with hypertension. The objectives would be to prevent, detect, and control the conditions.
Speaking at the launch of the programme in Nigeria, Dr Olagoke Ewedairo, VP of Health Services at mPharma, said the hypertension test and treat program is a service which aims to promote the early detection of hypertension, prompt treatment and prevention of complications such as hypertensive heart disease, kidney failure etc. which are on the rise despite being preventable.
The service includes a private consultation to review your medical history and current medications, determine your cardiovascular risk level and provide tailored lifestyle modification strategies to improve your health and wellbeing. In addition, a range of diagnostic tests would be available; all of these are to ensure you have a healthy heart.
On his part, Dr Hafeez Oluwa, the Global Primary Care Manager at mPharma, said that the company is taking a different approach to dealing with hypertension, going further than just helping people who have already developed the condition to identify people who are at risk of hypertension and collaborating with them to prevent the development of the disease.
“The passive approach has just led to numbers rising exponentially. We need to think more about primary prevention as we deal with hypertension with health promotion. If we start implementing lifestyle changes at an earlier stage, we may prevent more diagnoses of hypertension”, he said, speaking at the launch.
The programme has been rolled out in stages, the first stage was using the ongoing diabetes programme at mPharma, Diabetes Test and Treat, which has helped over 3000 patients achieve optimal glycemic control, become more aware of their risk of developing hypertension and helping those who have been diagnosed be more adherent to their medication.
The second stage was identifying people living with hypertension around our communities and deploying health education and coaching to help them control their blood pressure. Mr Dominic, a beneficiary of the program, said he was happy with the initiative as he got more insights into some of the things he had been doing that were preventing him from getting better. He wanted mPharma to do more to make sure many more people like him have access to this initiative.
The programme, in its final form, will include more people in its target audience, including people identified as being at risk of hypertension. It would be available in Kenya as a subscription service for purchase through mPharma mutti pharmacies and in subsequent months in other countries. It aligns with mPharma’s vision of providing accessible and affordable care to patients in vulnerable communities across Africa by transforming its mutti pharmacies into primary healthcare centres.
The hypertension test and treat service launches at select mutti pharmacies in Nigeria are effective today. Patients can visit any of mPharma mutti pharmacies to check their blood pressure for free and discuss their eligibility program.
mPharma plans to expand the hypertension test and treatment service to all 500 locations of mutti branches over time as the company’s ultimate aim is to put every African in good health and to contribute their quota to making universal healthcare coverage available to all.
Stanbic IBTC Pushes for Innovative Financing Solutions for Healthcare
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The healthcare industry in Nigeria can compete with others in advanced countries if stakeholders work together to create innovative financing solutions.
The Head of Specialised Sectors at Stanbic IBTC Bank, Ms Jane Ike-Okoli, said the market is big enough to attract more investors.
A few days ago, Business Post reported that a global research firm, Agusto & Co, projected that an increased foreign interest would drive growth in Nigeria’s healthcare system, especially through the acquisition and establishment of health facilities in the medium term, helping to bridge the healthcare infrastructure deficit estimated at $82 million.
For Ms Ike-Okoli, this goal can be achieved as Nigeria is Africa’s largest healthcare market. She said the country only needs an effective collaboration among stakeholders to boost the sector.
Speaking during the panel session at the Medic West Africa Conference, Ms Ike-Okoli argued that effective collaboration between the financial industry and healthcare organisations was key to advancing Nigeria’s health sector.
She also mentioned that the sector is yearning for innovative financing solutions to address the nuances of lending to healthcare businesses.
“Nigeria is Africa’s largest healthcare market, and despite this, we have inadequate healthcare infrastructure, which gives rise to weakened health systems.
“It is in response to this that Stanbic IBTC has decided to partner with key players in the healthcare sector to improve access to healthcare finance and provide robust yet flexible funding options for healthcare businesses and providers.
“Our healthcare solutions are tailor-made for players in the sector who need working capital to expand healthcare operations, acquire medical equipment, facilitate medical research, and grow their healthcare businesses.
“One of such solutions is the recently launched unsecured short-term loan with a 12-month tenor, which is aimed at directly supporting providers with funds to improve their offerings and, by extension, grow the healthcare sector in Nigeria,” she stated.
Other panellists featured at the event included Dr Folabi Ogunlesi, Managing Partner Vesta Healthcare; Dr Idorenyin Oladiran, Medical Consultant, Human Resources, MTN Nigeria; Dr Leke Oshunniyi, CEO, Health and Managed Care Association of Nigeria (HMCAN) and Professor Akin Abayomi, Commissioner of Health, Lagos State.
Pharmaceutical Company Introduces Affordable Blood Tonic for Nigerians
By Aduragbemi Omiyale
The harsh economy in Nigeria caused by high prices of items amid low purchasing power has made it difficult for Nigerians to afford the basic needs of life, especially drugs to replenish their body system.
As a result, the rate of suicide triggered by depression and others has increased. Also, the number of people falling sick in the country has skyrocketed.
But things may soon change for the better as a pharmaceutical firm, Sterling Biopharma Limited, has introduced a new product called Fejeron Blood Tonic into the Nigerian market to support the country’s about 66.8 per cent economically active population.
Fejeron Blood Tonic contains iron, Vitamin B12 and folic acid, all essential components that help to facilitate adequate blood supply and replenishment to the body with vital vitamins while enabling a strong immune system.
“Fejeron Blood Tonic is the latest proof of our commitment to this mission. Despite its premium quality, Fejeron, at the moment, is one of the most affordable blood tonics you will find in the Nigerian pharma market, and this is deliberate. All Nigerians should be able to take care of themselves,” the chief operating officer of Sterling Biopharma, Mr Adebayo Adepoju, said at the unveiling of the product in Lagos on Thursday, September 15.
He said the drug was formulated due to the nature of stress and fatigue that Nigerians encounter daily, which requires that their physical and mental well-being is well supported to function at its best.
“At Sterling Biopharma, we believe that everyone deserves to be able to buy simple prescription drugs without breaking the bank. This is why from the moment we entered the Nigerian market. With our wide range of products, we have made our intentions clear, and that is to make quality pharmaceutical products affordable for all Nigerians,” he stated.
Since its market introduction, Fejeron has quickly become one of the well-sought-after new brands in the pharmaceutical category. The Product Manager, Olumide Ogunremi, linked the warm embrace of the product to its quality and appeal to the needs of Nigerians.
“The quick acceptance of Fejeron Blood Tonic in Nigeria is not surprising. The enthusiasm to try out the product and the return purchases across the biggest pharmaceutical markets in Nigeria validate the quality of the product and timeliness of its emergence.”
On what makes Fejeron Blood Tonic unique, Mr Ogunremi promised that both the young and old would love the taste of Fejeron, adding that extra effort has also been put into ensuring that the product has fewer chances of causing common side effects like metallic after-taste, staining of the teeth; constipation, diarrhoea, nausea and others.
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