From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari met with Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Monday night in New York, US where they discussed efforts to mobilise COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers to Nigeria.
Okonjo-Iweala who spoke with journalists after the meeting at Millennium Plaza, Manhattan, New York, said: “It’s been a wonderful engagement. I came to brief His Excellency on the WTO and the work that it is ongoing and to talk about how the WTO may be supportive to the continent. And to ask His Excellency to support some of the work we are doing on some of the negotiations, like fisheries, what we’re doing on health, on COVID-19, trying to get manufacturers of vaccines to come into the country and into the continent. So, these are some of the things we talked about.
“Well, what we’re trying to do, you know, there’s this UNGA conference, and then President Biden has just called a conference on COVID. On the 22nd in Washington in which we’ve also been invited to.
“What we’re trying to say is that the inequity in access to vaccines is not acceptable. The fact that on the African continent, less than four per cent of us have been vaccinated, whereas in the rich countries, you know, close to 50 per cent have been vaccinated, it’s not something that really is good for the world. Why? Because we have all these variants that are circulating. And if you don’t vaccinate people, they will just migrate from unvaccinated to the vaccinated.
“So, what we’re saying is, in order to solve this problem, we have to produce more vaccines. And then we have to distribute them equitably, to parts of the world that don’t have. And that’s the narrative.”
On the timeline to realise the objective, Okonjo-Iweala said: “Investing in vaccines takes time. So, it’s not right away, in two to three years. Hopefully, we will see the fruits of some of this.
“Nigeria had already planned to have a plant with bio vaccines. It is working with some other investors and we’re trying to help push that as well. So, in two to three years, hopefully, we’ll be able to see the fruits of this labour.”