By Chinwendu Obienyi
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Asian, European, North American, South American and African continents, the health sectors of these continents swung into action to stop the rising cases of deaths.
Already, there have been over 206,958,371 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 4,357,179 million deaths reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In Africa, there are about 5.27 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and Nigeria has recorded 182,503 cases, with 167,132 cases discharged while 2,219 deaths have been recorded in 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
But the above number would have been much more if not for the Godwin Emefiele led-Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s quick intervention in the nation’s health sector.
As part of its policy measures to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nigeria and in furtherance of its objective of providing credit facility for the healthcare industry, the apex bank unveiled a N100 billion credit support for the pharmaceutical industry.
The initiative was developed to provide funding to indigenous pharmaceutical companies and other organisations in the healthcare value chain to enable them increase capacity to meet the increasing demand for healthcare services and products arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was intended to reduce medical tourism to other countries by Nigerian citizen and in the process conserve foreign exchange; provide long-term low cost finance for healthcare infrastructure development that would lead to the evolution of world-class healthcare facilities in the country. Its other objectives include the improvement of access to affordable credit by indigenous pharmaceutical companies in order to expand their operations, and support the provision of shared services through one-stop healthcare solutions to enhance competition and reduce the cost of healthcare delivery in the country.
According to the CBN, the initiative will improve access to affordable credit for indigenous pharmaceutical companies for expansion and encourage compliance with the WHO Goods Manufacturing Practice.
The facility also covers the manufacture of pharmaceutical drugs and medical equipment, the establishment/ expansion/ upgrade of basic and specialised healthcare facilities, the provision of medical/ pharmaceutical supplies, the support of medical/pharmaceutical research and development (R&D), the distribution of medical/pharmaceutical drugs and supplies, the manufacture of medical/pharmaceutical drugs distribution technology and any other healthcare value chain activity as may be prescribed by the CBN from time to time.
The scheme, funded from the Real Sector Support Facility-Differentiated Cash Reserves Requirement (RSSF-DCRR) of the CBN with disbursements made by Participating Financial Institutions (PFI’s).
The eligible financial institutions are Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) and Development Finance Institutions (DFIs).
Furthermore, a body of experts was established by the apex bank to review and evaluate submitted research proposals and provide recommendations for financing the identified research and development proposals.
Already, 20 projects valued at N26.278 billion have been funded under the N100 billion credit support intervention for the healthcare industry, just as the CBN HSRDIS was designed to increase Nigeria’s research and development activities to support the development of validated Nigeria-made vaccines, drugs and herbal medicines.
Recently, the apex bank revealed that it disbursed over N97.4 billion out of the N100 billion credit intervention for the healthcare industry.
The bank added that N232.5 million had been disbursed to five beneficiaries under the CBN HealthCare Grant for Research on COVID-19 and Lassa fever.
The major objective according to the bank was also to reduce dependence on imported drug products (synthetic and herbal) and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in Nigeria.
To achieve this objective, the CBN made it a policy to focus attention on research projects with high potential to contribute to the development of the Nigerian vaccines that will help curb the spread of infectious diseases.
Furthermore, it provided grants to biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies, institutions, researchers, and research institutes to boost domestic capacity to curb the spread of COVID-19 and other communicable or non-communicable diseases.
This is part of efforts to support the capacity of relevant health agencies towards attaining WHO Maturity Level 3 prerequisite for manufacturing of vaccines in Nigeria. On the other hand the bank is facilitating partnership between academia (researchers, research institutes and universities) and industry to research and develop drugs and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in Nigeria.
Also, it is intended to provide long-term, low cost finances for healthcare infrastructure development that would lead to the evolution of world class healthcare facilities in the country.
That interest rate on this facility is within a single digit range of five per cent is a clear indication that it will catalyse and improve access to affordable credit by indigenous pharmaceutical companies to expand their operations and comply with the World Health Organization’s Good Manufacturing Practices (WHO GMP).
According to analysts, the apex bank intends to use the facility to support the provision of shared services through a one-stop healthcare solution to enhance competition and reduce the cost of healthcare delivery in the country.
This is noteworthy as it is evident that the CBN is out to encourage greater research and development in Nigeria of drugs and vaccines that would help prevent the spread of the virus.
There is already a framework in progress under which grants and long term facilities will be provided to researchers, science institutions and biotechnology firms to develop the Nigerian vaccine.
Already, some pharmaceutical companies have actually accessed this facility which will enhance the research component of their operations.
It is after successes are recorded and validated by the Health Authorities through clinical trials that the CBN will step in and do the needful as part of this whole package is aimed at safeguarding the nation and her citizens from the rampaging pandemic.
What is comforting is the CBN’s appreciation of the enormity of the problem at hand, which has made it aware of the pertinence of involving other interest groups.
Without being prodded, it understood that it may not be able to actualise the laudable objective on its own. This is why its decision to bring on board private sector players under a coalition against the pandemic (the CACOVID) came on board.
As proved by what is already on ground, the resources put together by the CACOVID is actually being deployed to mobilizing even further private sector thought leadership which aims at raising public awareness and buy-in for COVID-19 prevention while at the same time providing direct support to strengthen the healthcare sector’s capacity to respond to the crisis.
While there are fears that there may be diversion of funds, the bank noted that the Health Sector Intervention Facility (HSIF) was established to address health infrastructure decay in the country and not diversion funds to another sector.
The Head, Corporate Affairs of the CBN, Osita Nwanesiobi, said that the apex bank is monitoring the utilisation of these funds while adding that there has not been any diversion.
“We need to understand that this is a health intervention and the health sector is regulated. What you may refer to as the absence of evidence of investment in the sector is because the beneficiaries are doing the right thing by going through the regulatory hurdles for each stage of utilisation. Soon the impact will be obvious. Besides, the CBN also carried out an impact assessment of the facility.”
He said the HSIF has been used to finance the following: acquisition and installation of 16 magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Machines across the country; and acquisition and installation of 22 medical scanning machines by hospitals across the country.
“These are verifiable and we confirm that they have been installed,” Nwanisobi added.
In the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), there is emerging evidence that the private sector, driven by the CBN, has been able to establish the much needed isolation centers, procure medical equipment and hospital beds across the country which will serve as a significant boost towards the efforts at containing the spread of COVID-19.