Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) partnered with the South African Consortium to establish its first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer center. What structures should Nigeria put in place for the country to move in this direction?
For WHO to partner with the South African Consortium to establish its first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer center, it means the country has prequalification and the country can only qualify if it is interested in exporting drugs or vaccines to other countries.
Nigeria is not yet ready to mass produce vaccines, but for us to move in that direction we need to have a vision and that vision should be to prioritize R&D in the country.
Because the production of vaccines requires huge funds, we should above all be interested in making drugs and vaccines for ourselves. I suggested that companies need to come together and develop viable strategies, so that they can get funding from government and maybe international organizations to make vaccines or drugs for Nigeria.
COVID-19 has underlined the importance of local production to deal with health emergencies, strengthen regional health security and expand sustainable access to health products. Do Nigerian Scientists Have What It Takes to Produce a COVID-19 Vaccine?
Nigeria is home to one of the best brains of pharmaceutical scientists in the world. Nigeria has the human capacity to manufacture any type of drug, to undertake research and development on any type of drug, whether synthetic or natural. The country also has the professional, intellectual and industrial know-how necessary for the production of vaccines.
In terms of infrastructure capacity, however, Nigeria lacks the infrastructure capacity to manufacture, not just vaccines, but all drugs.
As we speak, Nigeria does not manufacture any medicine. Nigeria imports 100 percent of its drug needs from other countries. We import raw materials, that is, active pharmaceutical ingredients, and then we compose or produce them into capsules, tablets, injections and syrups, etc. Sometimes we import already finished products from India, China and United Kingdom (UK) into our healthcare system. and in the market to be sold in pharmacy or patent stores or in our hospitals.
So we are not manufacturing anything and this is because the infrastructure required for the Nigerian pharmaceutical space, industry players i.e. scientists to undertake the synthesis of chemical compounds needed for manufacturing of our own medicines and vaccines, are not available at this stage.
Can the intervention funds of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) help the local production of drugs and vaccines in Nigeria?
On the intervention grant from the central bank of Nigeria for research, the grant is a welcome development, but it will not be enough to produce a vaccine because we are starting from scratch.
Research and development have been neglected over the years. Nigerian leaders are not prioritizing research and development. We hear about intervention because of COVID-19, which affects us all.
When we all found out that the whole aviation industry was shut down and no one could travel anywhere, and the rich men of Nigeria found their huge money was useless to them because they couldn’t travel to the stranger to buy health care, so they began to look inside. . It was then that they realized that medicine is a safety material. They realized that handing over drug production to foreign countries is a huge mistake and a lack of governance prowess. So they started to look inside and that’s why you hear about interventions here and there.
Although the intervention fund is too small, however, I recommend this initiative to start. This intervention must continue so that we can achieve the purpose and objective of the grant in the first place. If CBN makes this a one-off intervention, I bet you we’ll be back to square zero by the time the next pandemic arrives, because I can assure you there will be another pandemic in the future.
If R&D funding is consistent, will Nigerian scientists be able to produce a viable COVID-19 vaccine over the next five years?
The countries that prepare for war in peacetime are the ones that will survive. It is not during the war that one starts to buy ammunition. This is the peacetime that you started to research and prepare for.
In 1976, when the Ebola virus broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, American scientists took blood samples from the DRC to the UN. More than 30 years later, before Ebola became a problem around the world, and at that time the United States already had a therapeutic agent pending. This is how to be a responsible country.
For Nigeria to produce a vaccine, the CBN intervention must be an annual initiative. CBN must, of necessity, fund the project for 25 years, it must be able to distribute 50 billion naira to scientists in this country to continue to undertake research and development in our medical plan and then we can come up with our own. vaccine. By the way, the vaccine does not necessarily have to be biological material obtained only from organisms, it can also be a herbal vaccine.
If funding is consistent and CBN is determined to prioritize research and development, over the next five years we will be able to produce our first vaccine against COVID-19. But anyone who thinks Nigeria’s COVID-19 vaccine will be ready soon because CBN gave researchers N500m, is a joker because N500m does not produce a vaccine.
To begin with, I will advise that the CBN selects five researchers from the base of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), merge them for the purpose of local production of COVID-19 vaccine and provide an annual fund of N500m for 10 years. I can assure you that before the 10 years they will be able to come up with a vaccine, as long as the funding is constant for about 10 years.
Government cannot fund R&D alone, what do you advise pharmaceutical companies and the private sector to fund R&D in Nigeria?
Pharmaceutical companies and the private sector should also step up funding for research and development in Nigeria, as the government cannot do it alone. The AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company funded or partially funded the AstraZeneca vaccine that we use today. Pfizer has also funded its own vaccine, so pharmaceutical companies should be prepared to do that in Nigeria and stop funding election campaigns that are of little value to Nigerians.