(From Oluwafunke Ishola, NAN)
American philanthropist Bill Gates has advised the Nigerian government against diverting its limited health fund into trying to pay a high price for COVID-19 vaccines.
Gates gave the advice on Tuesday night during a virtual press conference ahead of the launch of the 2021 Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letters.
He said waiting for the GAVI vaccines would be the best thing for Nigeria, and investing proposed vaccine funds into other health-related areas would assist to deepen vaccine coverage and save lives.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Gavi is a global Vaccine Alliance that brings together public and private sectors, creating equal access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries.
Gavi is co-leading COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. This involves coordinating the COVAX Facility, a global risk-sharing mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of eventual COVID-19 vaccines.
NAN also reports that Mr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, had said Nigeria aimed to vaccinate 70 per cent of its population to stop transmission of COVID-19.
Shuaib said about 40 per cent of the population would be vaccinated against COVID-19 in 2021, the remaining 30 per cent before the end of 2022.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, had said the Federal Government needed about N400 billion to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria’s 211 million population.
“The key is that Nigeria is still eligible (for GAVI Vaccinee), and so, for a lot of those vaccines, they will come through the GAVI facility that we’ve raised money for,” Gates said.
Gates stressed that the impact of investing funds into the health system, particularly the primary health care system, would be very high in terms of saving children’s lives.
“I’m an advocate for the government to have more resources and prioritise health. Obviously, I’m not a voter in Nigeria, so Nigeria can decide that independently.
“So my advice is that the primary health care system is what’s super important and that with those finite resources, you have to prioritise expenditure.
“And in that case, waiting for the GAVI vaccines would be the best thing,” he said.
According to him, the deaths from the deficits of primary health care were dramatically higher every year than the total deaths going on in Africa from the pandemic.
“So I hope it causes everyone in society to look at these health issues.
“There should be close to 100 per cent coverage of all the vaccines and you need to have those very functional primary health care systems because the number of lives you can save is absolutely huge,” he said.