PSN and the vaccine production challenge


In the second week of January, I attended the maiden press parley organised by the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) for the Society’s new president, Pharm. Ahmed Yakasai, in Lagos. The parley which was well attended by health journalists from all the mainstream media and the new media was a success as the new PSN helmsman articulated his vision for the Society and succinctly analysed virtually all the contentious health care issues confronting the nation. Pharm. Yakasai answered the journalists firmly, and painstakingly expressed his opinion without unnecessary histrionics.

However, his response to one of the questions set me thinking. One journalist asked the new PSN helmsman if Nigeria could provide all the vaccines the country needs, should the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation Initiatives (GAVI), Nigeria’s major partner in our various immunisation programmes, withdraw its support by 2021 as announced last year.

Pharm. Yakasai, while responding, warned that it would be very difficult for Nigeria to cope if GAVI withdrew. While commending the Federal Government and the National Health Care Development Agency for recently organising a stakeholders’ forum on vaccines production to stimulate interest and develop a business plan for local vaccines production, he made it clear that Nigeria would struggle to even be ready by 2021 to single-handedly carry its burden of vaccine needs

While I was happy that the PSN president was candid in his response – knowing fully that the nation had over the years struggled to meet up with its share of counterpart funding for some of the national health programmes, including national immunisation programmes – I was disappointed that Nigeria, after being dependent on donor agencies for virtually all its public health intervention initiatives for several decades, had not planned for self-reliance.

GAVI, I learnt, for the past ten years, had been paying 60 per cent of Nigeria’s vaccine need while Nigeria paid 40 per cent. However, following the rebasing of Nigeria’s economy and the gleeful announcement that it had now become Africa’s biggest economy, the Geneva-based organisation had to review the nation’s status and announced that Nigeria no longer qualified for immunization-funding, meant for countries with lower daily dollar spending.

According to a recent report, GAVI said that it would withdraw the donor support gradually, by reducing the payment to Nigeria by 20 per cent every year, so that, by 2020, the country would have exhausted the 20 per cent and thus from 2021, it would be paying 100 per cent of the cost of vaccines.

‘One thing is unmistakably clear from the foregoing: there is an urgent need to find a way to increase domestic funding for not just vaccine needs but health care as a whole. Health care funding has been hampered by poor budgetary allocation to health. This is exemplified in the paltry 3.65 per cent allocated to health in the 2016 budget. The Nigerian nation, in years to come, must come up with innovative ways to fund health care. Proper implementation of the National Health Act passed in 2014 which allocated 1 per cent of Nigeria’s consolidated revenue to health will surely help improve health care funding. It is only when the health sector is properly funded that important processes such as local vaccine production can be boosted.

Nigeria must also urgently fast track ongoing processes to ensure local production of vaccines to meet our needs. The fact is that Nigeria has no excuse for not towing this line. In February 2012, while I was covering the opening ceremony of BioAsia 2012 conference, held in Hyderabad, India, Mr Seth Barkley, CEO of GAVI gave an insight on how well India was doing in vaccine production which I believe is worth emulating by other developing economies like Nigeria. He praised India for being masterful in using technology to produce vaccines in large quantities and at low cost, noting that India’s emergence as a global supplier and leader in vaccine science was a prime example of how the vaccine landscape had changed so dramatically over the past 20 years.

If India could so dramatically impact the global vaccine landscape as a supplier of vaccines, Nigeria has no reason to continue depending on donor agencies for its vaccine needs.

As advocated by the PSN president, Nigeria must provide the enabling environment required for local vaccines production. This nation cannot afford to perpetually depend on external sources for crucial health care needs such as vaccines.