The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments, Mr. Niyi Adebayo, said last week the Federal Government would engage indigenous manufacturers to tweak their operations to commence the production of made-in-Nigeria ventilators to boost the fight against the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Local automotive companies, he said, would be among the companies the Federal Government would be talking to for locally made ventilators.
Indeed, the automakers themselves seem to be warming up, looking up to the challenge and, apparently, taking a cue from automakers abroad. The spokesman for the Innoson Motor Manufacturing Company, Mr. Conrad Igwe, quoting his group chairman, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, said last week that his organisation was ready to convert the firm’s assembly line to start producing the critical medical equipment.
The severe respiratory risks that often come with the COVID-19 created the demand for ventilators, a previously obscure medical device, which mechanically helps patients breathe. Many patients with serious cases of COVID-19 suffer respiratory failure and would probably die if they cannot be connected to a ventilator. Very few illnesses required ventilators until COVID-19 arrived. In the entire Nigerian health care system, the most generous counts of all ventilators in the hospitals in Nigeria put the total number in the nation to less than 100. Even the United States had too few, less than 16,000. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, at the outbreak of the virus, was so desperate for hospital beds and ventilators he almost went into a shouting match with President Donald Trump who had offered him 30 ventilators when he (Cuomo) needed 30,000. Without them, Cuomo said, it was left to doctors to decide who lived and who died among distressed COVID-19 patients.
Beside the automotive companies, the Federal Government-owned National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) was, indeed, set up for needs demanding creative genius of Nigerians like the ventilators. It actually showed a locally made ventilator a few days ago to the Minister of Science and Technology. But it would appear that the desperation for ventilators has been overcome and there is no more the urgency noticed almost worldwide about six weeks ago. Indeed, the Chinese COVID-19 assistance to Nigerian from Jack Ma of Ali Baba flew in a consignment of assorted vital items, which contained 50 pieces of ventilators. The United States is boasting of a stockpile of ventilators. The New York governor no longer cries for ventilators.
Yet the prospect of a patient being put on a ventilator is one that fills people with dread. The statistics are pretty chilling: 40—50 per cent of patients with severe respiratory distress do not survive being on ventilator, and 80 per cent of all New York patients, confirmed two days ago by Governor Cuomo, never get off the ventilator alive. Thus when an elderly patient gets into a ventilator, the hospital mentally counts a fatality.
The COVID-19 seems to have laid bare the primitive state of our healthcare facilities. At least one senior officer of state has confessed he did not know that things were in such dire straits. Thus, this could turn out to be an opportunity to revive the ailing sector. Twelve testing laboratories were announced a few days ago; a few new hospitals have been improvised, even former First Lady Patience Jonathan was so charitable to permit her hotel being converted to a healthcare unit. The Kwara State Governor, Abdulrahman Abdulrazak, announced how he spent the recovered looted money. The N263.3 million was used to purchase 40 ventilators, five new ambulances, a mobile x-ray machine and to revive the oxygen plant, which has been in a deplorable state for nine years.
It is time to look inwards and reflect on what could have been if we did not dodge the bullet, if we had had to hospitalise 10 per cent of Nigerians. Every state government should incorporate a plan for a pandemic outbreak into its annual budget. The least the Federal Government can do with the support it has received from well-wishers should be at least six ultra-modern hospitals, one in each of the six geographical zones of the country.
We think it was encouraging for local manufacturers to try their hands in making the ventilator and the federal and state governments should offer their encouragement. Necessity is the mother of invention. So, this is an opportunity for these firms to make ventilators. Their counterparts abroad are doing the same. General Motors plans to produce 10,000 ventilators a month. Ford Motor Company hopes to produce 50,000 ventilators in 100 days. Mercedes F1 fabricated another less complex device, which could do the same thing as the ventilator. We also urge our drug manufacturers to take a cue from the present emergency and think of what could happen if Nigeria was unable to import medicines from abroad.