A two-man delegation from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) led by the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, at the Executive Secretary’s Office, last Friday, visited the Executive Secretary, NUC, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, mni, MFR,FNAL, to solicit for inter-agency collaboration in the area of strengthening sensitisation of the academic community on the need to get vaccination and building synergy in research generation.

The aim of the collaboration was to tackle the current Corvid-19 Viruses and mitigate against other possible diseases that could emerge in the nearest future.

In his speech, the Executive Director and CEO of NPHCDA, Dr. Shuaib, commended NUC for its compliance with the Covid 19 non-Pharmaceutical protocol, describing her as one of the best from his visit to various organisations. He said that he deemed it necessary to initiate such inter-agency collaborations with relevant government agencies which necessitated the visit to the Commission.

He told the Executive Secretary that the idea was to seek NUC’s understanding, support and cooperation, as the manager of academic institutions to enable the healthcare agency to drive mass vaccination. He argued that such arrangement would help it facilitate the inoculation of staff and students of the universities within the campuses as part of its campaign to take the message of the vaccination to the grassroots. He said such collaboration would help to achieve laudable social, health and economic goals of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC), which recently directed that government employees at all levels should get vaccinated before resuming duties. 

He informed the Executive Secretary that the NPHCDA was a parastatal of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health, established in 1992, but later merged with the National Programme on Immunization (NPI) in 2007. He recounted that the agency was established following the recommendation of a high level WHO review team through Decree 29 of 1992 to capitalize on major achievements in primary health care delivery in Nigeria beginning from 1986 to 1992 which had resulted in the country being ranked amongst the top in the world, in terms of primary healthcare, relative to other countries.

According to him, since its inception, the agency had made remarkable and innovative progress in the development of primary health care and improving the health and quality of life of Nigerians, especially in developing communities.

In the pursuance of its overall mission, NPHCDA had continued to strive to fulfill seven of its cardinal corporate goals, in the areas of controlling preventable diseases, improving access to quality health, access to basic health services, strengthening partnerships and strengthening community engagements, among others.

He disclosed that since the advent of Covid, the agency which was saddled with the responsibility of giving out the immunization component to Nigerians had been able to ramp up vaccination to about 7million Nigerians. Despite this achievement, he said many Nigerians were either facing disinformation and or misinformation on the effect of the vaccine. Some, he said, even have the belief that Covid does not exist, while some think they were immune from any form of vulnerability to the pandemic.  

He said: “In line with the NPHCDA commitment to ramp up COVID-19 vaccine uptake, the agency has put in place plans for the establishment of mass vaccination sites across the country,” he said.

“The objective of this strategy is to vaccinate a high volume of individuals through large sites such as federal institutions (universities, polytechnics), shopping malls, religious centres, sporting events, conference centres, and markets.

“This will require strong collaboration between NPHCDA and the school authorities. “As we expand the vaccination sites, we encourage all eligible Nigerians to avail themselves for vaccination.

“I am also glad to inform you, Executive Secretary Sir, that we have commenced the process of decentralising COVID-19 vaccination in Nigeria, to include private health care providers. This is to expand access and increase utilisation of the vaccines,” He added.

He bemoaned that some perceived “powerful individuals” have access to the social media where the misinformation was going on daily. The NPHCDA, he stressed, was collaborating with the NUC to sensitise the Nigerian University System (NUS), especially to achieve mass vaccination at the lower rung of governance, targeting those outside of Abuja, which had not really being inoculated at a massive level.

Dr. Faisal also told Prof. Rasheed that the agency had already secured the buy-in of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the umbrella body for students, where over 1,000 students were vaccinated at one meeting.  He noted that the agency had been engaging medical practitioners within the clinics, but understood that it needed the partnership of NUC to establish mass vaccination outlets within the universities.

On the issue of building synergy, he stated that government agencies needed to develop a platform where they work conscientiously to work out the needs of Nigeria practically in the now and future by translating medical researches into useful products especially in areas of averting diseases. He posed a rhetoric question on what Nigeria could do to prepare for uncertainties and future outbreaks and the tools being required and plan for them with adequacy and predictability.  He stressed that Africans don’t need to wait anymore for the Western World to produce vaccines for it with event of the recent past on vaccine mobilisation. He noted the need to begin to think about mobilising resources within the universities to undertake cutting-edge research outcomes that would go beyond managing Covid to other diseases by Nigerian Medical Scientists.     

In his response, Prof. Rasheed applauded the delegation for the visit and persistent commitment in their drive to educate Nigerians on the need for vaccination against Covid with so many of the variants now emerging across the globe, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) 1 and 2, and the recent Omicron virus. He explained that Nigeria had not been the epicentre of all the emerging variants and wondered why the country was being maltreated in the global community.

The Executive Secretary said frantically that the little that Nigeria had in terms of medical facilities got exposed when the virus came in, enabling the nation realise that it had inadequacies in the area of diagnostic laboratories and machines to tackle the infectious diseases. He described the situation as a wake-up call for Nigeria to know the gaps and understand what was needed to be done. He harped on the need to bridge the gap in researches by medical scientists in the NUS to reduce such incidences. He noted that many campuses in Nigeria had a coalition of several persons, with about 3,000 staff, teaching and non-teaching, besides their families and dependents and agreed they needed adequate sensitisation.  

He described the interface with the agency, as one that would culminate into other meetings with other research centres in the universities, saying that the Bill Gates Foundation, the World Bank and a few others had been assisting in the area of medical researches, which had made the Redeemers University, Ede, the Centre for Genomics and other Infectious Diseases in Nigeria.

He also lauded the NPHCDA on its idea of the need to sensitise the NUS in a way and manner that would elicit their buy in. He promised that NUC would support and cooperate with the agency by way of communication to the universities to tighten their responses to Covid vaccinations and encouraging them to establish centres in the hostels, staff quarters and university office environment.

He acknowledged the challenges of the health development agency in persuading Nigerians to get vaccinated, noting that historically the issues of vaccination had been achieved in Nigeria by the use of force including against measles and polio. He, however, pointed out that the resistance was not peculiar to the educated in Nigeria, as even Germans and USA citizens expressed scepticism over the vaccine dosages. He stated that the way and manner the developed world treated Africa in the vaccine donation also helped to escalate the pessimism as vaccination started late in the country.

According to him, many regarded the vaccines sent to Africa as expired doses and even the fear of preservation due to lack of facilities for retaining the vaccine potency also increased the despondency. He said even the confirmation of over 1million dosage as being expired by the PSC on Covid heightened the suspicion and lack of interest. He said one obvious factor was that the temperature of Nigeria might not be in consonance with the climate where some of the vaccines were produced, which remained issues to be addressed in the vaccine management.   

He, however, agreed that the benefits of taking the vaccine outweighed the limitations observed, acknowledging that help clinics could be established in the universities to make the vaccines accessible to lecturers, staff and students within the university community.

On the strength of this, he agreed on the need to transmit a letter to the universities on the matter, while on the interim, as soon as the areas of collaborations were strengthened and streamlined, NUC would be responsible for organising a zoom meeting involving the Vice-Chancellors, Directors of Health and Provosts of Colleges of Medicine and Medical Researchers in the universities, early in the new year to fast track the achievements of the two basic objectives of sensitisation and up-scaling of research collaborations with global agencies like the Bill Gates Foundation. 

He also agreed to allow the NPHCDA to establish a vaccine administering centre in the NUC to avail returning staff, who had not been vaccinated to get themselves inoculated and or booster doses for those that have taken either of the two doses of AstraZeneca or Pfizer Bio-N-Tech vaccines. 

Meanwhile, in the NPHCDA entourage was the Technical Assistant to the ED/CEO, Dr. Murtala Bagana.

At the meeting were the NUC Deputy Executive Secretary, Administration, Mr. Chris Maiyaki; Directors of:  Establishment of Private Universities (DEPU); Mrs. Constance Goddy-Nnadi;   Open Distance and e-learning (DODE), Engr. Kayode Odedina; Students ( DoS), Mr Sunday Essien; Executive Secretary’s Office (DESO), Mr. John Mairafi Ahmadu;  and  the Acting Directors of; Inspection and Monitoring, Mrs. Lydia Imorua and Research, Innovations and Information Communication Technology (DRIIT), Mal. Lawan Faruk as well as Skills Development and Entrepreneurship, Mal. Ashafa Ladan.

In attendance were frontline academics, Profs. Godwin Soglo and Olufemi Bamiro.