/ 4 September 2021

Nigeria ‘being careful’ about private sector Covid help

Nigeria Health Virus Vaccine
The first batch of Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses are offloaded from a plane during its arrival at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, in Abuja, Nigeria, on March 2, 2021. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon/AFP via Getty Images)

Just 0.7% of Nigerians are fully vaccinated. But the country will soon start receiving almost 42-million doses of Covid-19 vaccines as it steps up its inoculation campaign. The government has acquired 60 units of U701 cold chain equipment to store the vaccines. Everything seems ready to go.

However, private sector healthcare practitioners say the government handling the roll-out on its own could complicate the vaccination push.

The government says it has good reason for going it alone – contracts. The minister of state for health, Olorunnimbe Mamora, told The Continent that the ministry was cautious about allowing private-sector involvement because of an indemnity clause it has with manufacturers, and because of the risk of fake Covid-19 vaccines being circulated if procurement is opened.

“The manufacturers have said that for countries to have access to the vaccines, they must sign indemnification,” Mamora said. “This means that they won’t be liable for any reaction those who took the vaccine present with. This makes the government liable.”

He added: “To be sure of the sources of the vaccines and take absolute responsibility, we go through government-to-government bilateral processes and established platforms.”

For now, this means the government is “being careful” before it involves the private sector. In the first phase of the vaccination campaign, it took Nigeria five months to exhaust the four-million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The roll-out was handled by state authorities following directives from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, a federal government body.

Other African countries, including Ghana and South Africa, are supplementing government efforts by incorporating the private sector into different stages of their vaccination programmes. In Nigeria, where the private sector provides 70% of the country’s healthcare needs, it is a conspicuous omission.

According to Dr Egbe Osifo-Dawodu, a health policy expert, engaging private healthcare providers such as hospitals and pharmacies could help reduce pressure on the federal government and ensure that jabs are efficiently used.

“Some private sector players in Nigeria have the capacity to procure high-quality vaccines if licenced, and people who have private or state health insurance or can conveniently pay out-of-pocket could patronise them,” Osifo-Dawodu said. 

For those who cannot, he said the government can then ensure people who cannot afford to buy vaccines get them for free.

Right now, Covid vaccination is free for everyone in Nigeria who wants a shot. 

Clare Omatseye, president of the West Africa Private Healthcare Federation, an umbrella group of healthcare providers, told The Continent the “private sector could be engaged to solve inefficiencies in the vaccination value chain: from cold chain storage to macro and last mile distribution, administration and pharmacovigilance”.

Nigeria, like most other countries in Africa and the Global South, has been afforded little opportunity to access vaccines supply chains, largely thanks to hoarding by wealthy nations.

And the longer it takes to secure adequate vaccine stock, the more dangerous it becomes for every country on the planet, because in unvaccinated areas where it is able to spread unchecked, the virus risks mutating beyond the capacity of the current vaccines to contain it, and spreading back out into the world.

As it is, with the Delta variant already hovering on its doorstep, Nigeria will have to vaccinate quickly indeed if it hopes to keep a lid on the highly contagious variant.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in The Continent