Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, has reacted to media reports alleging that about one million doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine expired in Nigeria last month.
He argued that the long-term measure to prevent such incident “is for Nigeria to produce its own vaccines, so that vaccines produced have at least 12 months to expire.”
He continued, “This is why the Federal Ministry of Health is collaborating with stakeholders to fast-track establishment of indigenous vaccine manufacturing capacity. This is a goal we are pursuing with dedication.”
In a statement, yesterday, in Abuja, the minister observed that the donation of surplus vaccines with expiring shelf lives to developing countries has been a matter of international discussion, adding that the nations accepted them because they bridged their critical vaccine supply gaps and, “being free, save us scarce foreign exchange procurement cost.”
He noted that this “dilemma is not typical to Nigeria, but a situation in which many low-and medium-income countries find themselves,” adding that vaccines that expired had been withdrawn, and will be destroyed accordingly, by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
This is even as the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) said that the most populous black nation is awaiting another 57 million doses, explaining that only 3.5 million eligible Nigerians had been fully vaccinated against the virus.
The National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has also urged members to embrace the ongoing mass vaccination.
NPHCDA’s Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, spoke yesterday at an awareness programme for students organised by NANS at the University of Abuja.
Represented by the Director, Disease Control and Immunisation, Bassey Okposen, the NPHCDA boss said 6.6 million Nigerians had taken first dose, while 3.5 million had been fully vaccinated.
He said the Federal Government had adequate doses to cover a large percentage of the population, adding that the country needs to vaccinate about 70 per cent of the populace to achieve herd immunity against the disease.
Shuaib advised students and the unvaccinated to take the jabs, stressing that it is “free, safe and effective.”
NANS National President, Sunday Asefon, said the body had demonstrated acceptance and endorsement for the vaccine.
IN a related development, the World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, said the pandemic’s disruption to health services had increased tuberculosis deaths in Africa, first of such rise in more than a decade, as decline in new cases slowed down.
The United Nations (UN) apex health body, in a statement, said the region had made some progress – reducing cases by 19 per cent between 2015 and 2020 – and reflecting a decline of four to 10 per cent yearly in South Africa and several others.
However, the region reported 549,000 deaths in 2020, an increase of around 2,000 over 2019, and while cases fell modestly by 2.5 per cent in 2020 from 1.4 million the previous year, there were significant drops in reporting of new infections in countries with high tuberculosis burden, including Angola, South Africa and Zimbabwe – all of which have grappled with high COVID-19 cases.
According to the WHO, reallocation of resources and health workforce to tackle COVID-19 in many African countries as well as drastic pandemic response measures such as lockdowns greatly reduced access to key health services including tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment.
The African region is home to 17 of the 30 countries globally that have the highest burden of tuberculosis and the trend seen in the region follows a rise in tuberculosis cases worldwide due to the COVID-19 impact.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said: “The pandemic has put progress against tuberculosis on the line. Although times are hard and efforts strained by the race to overcome COVID-19, African governments must work harder now to revamp and improve access to essential health services.”
Moeti said the WHO End Tuberculosis Strategy sets key targets to end the disease. She said countries should aim for a 90 per cent reduction in tuberculosis deaths and an 80 per cent reduction in case by 2030 compared with 2015.
The strategy outlines key milestones for countries to reach by 2020 and 2025.
The 2020 milestone seeks a 35 per cent reduction in tuberculosis deaths and 20 per cent decline in cases. A WHO scorecard released yesterday on the 2020 milestone showed that only eight countries—Botswana, Cabo Verde, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Togo—met or exceeded the 20 per cent reduction target.
According to the scorecard, thirteen countries achieved the target to reduce deaths by 35 per cent in 2020. However, the analysis also found that there were significant data gaps in key areas due in part to the challenges posed by the pandemic.
The WHO said although most countries do not report data on tuberculosis preventive treatment especially for people living with Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV), five countries namely—Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe—exceeded the target.
The scorecard also measures the proportion of households experiencing catastrophic costs due to tuberculosis. Patients and their households can face severe direct and indirect financial and economic costs that pose barriers that can greatly affect their access to diagnosis and treatment.
Eight countries completed the tuberculosis cost surveys for 2020. No country has yet demonstrated that it has met the target that no tuberculosis-affected households face catastrophic costs.
Tuberculosis is the leading killer of people with HIV and the African region has the highest burden of HIV-associated tuberculosis. Factors including insufficient funding for programmes, limited access to modern diagnostic tools as well as low implementation of preventive treatment hinder progress against the disease.
Moeti said addressing factors such as poor living and working conditions as well as risk factors including HIV infection; malnutrition, diabetes, smoking and alcohol abuse have the potential to drive down the tuberculosis epidemic.
This is possible through collaborative efforts involving the health sector, other government bodies, the private sector, non-governmental organizations donors and communities.
“Reining in this preventable, curable disease calls for matching resources to political will. We need to increase investment in diagnosis and treatment to get back on track,” Moeti said.
She said despite the challenges, there has been progress on other key indicators. For instance, most African countries have met or exceeded the goal of providing at least 90 per cent of HIV-positive tuberculosis patients with antiretroviral treatment during their treatment for tuberculosis.
In five countries—Burundi, Mauritius, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles and Sierra Leone—100 per cent of HIV-positive tuberculosis patients were reported as having started or continued antiretroviral treatment while being treated for tuberculosis.
Additionally, treatment success rate for new and relapse cases have also surpassed 90 per cent in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania.