Opinion

COVID-19 And NPHCDA’s Rescue Mission – By Philip Agbese 

At last, salvation from the asphyxiation of the COVID-19 pandemic for Nigeria looks very certain now. Like the popular idiomatic cliché, there is now light at the end of the tunnel. A bright hope and reality of the total freedom from the sickening torments of the global coronavirus pandemic on Nigerians stares in the face and patiently waiting to proclaim its victory.

Soon and very soon, the COVID-19 induced deaths; agonizing days and months of illness and treatment of victims and the lonely burial of beloved ones like recluses will be forgotten. In the nearest future, the multiple public social restrictions would begin to gradually ebb out of life’s boring routines imposed by the epidemic in Nigeria, like elsewhere.

Nigeria has subscribed to COVAX vaccines, which is spearheaded and co-led by Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and the World Health Organization, (WHO), with UNICEF as an implementing partner. It is free globally and Nigeria is not an exception.

On March 2, 2021, the Nigerian Government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari took delivery of 3.94 million doses in the first batch of the global scheme, COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX), developed by the University of Oxford and drugmaker AstraZeneca.  Nigeria is only the third African nation to receive the COVAX vaccines for the inoculation of her populations against global contagion.

Interestingly, the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has tested, certified and approved it for use by Nigerians. Worldwide, the newly developed COVID-19 vaccines are in short supply.

But the battle against the disease has started and there is no need to panic anymore. So, in a few months from now, Nigeria would take delivery of 16 million more doses of COVAX vaccines in batches and a projection of inoculating 40% of its population in 2021. Progressively, the figure would add by another 30% by 2022. COVID-19 threats are real in Nigeria, with a frightening confirmed case of 155, 657 and a total of nearly 2,000 deaths nation-wide by the latest official figures.

The onus of national coordination, distribution and inoculation of Nigerians for the COVID-19 falls on the shoulders of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, (NPHCDA). It is an arduous task, no doubt and basically because of the limited dosages of the COVAX vaccines, the estimated population it must cover; the conscious measures required to avoid crowdy platforms which might cause further spread of the disease in the course of distribution and the delicate nature of the vaccines as well as other incidental problems that might arise in the course of the exercise.

It, therefore, requires focus, shrewdness and perceptiveness from the administrative leaders and managers of NPHCDA to successfully discharge the sensitive national assignment. Fortunately, from the outset, its Director, Mr Faisal Shuaib by words and actions has proven to be a brainy administrator, who is competent and perfectly abreast with the briefs and intricacies of the national assignment.

To this end, NPHCDA has adopted multi-layered approaches for the distribution and administration of vaccines. It has launched a self-registration portal online for individuals, who would be processed and notified for the inoculation through the personal data provided by the client. Also, there is the house-to-house electronic registration segment by its staff in preparatory to the vaccine rollout to the target audience.

In essence, the NPHCDA’s boss is conscious to avoid the reality of the maxim, which alludes to creating more problems in the attempts to solve one. Therefore, to avoid crowding by immunization seekers, he has structured the administration of the COVAX vaccines in a manner that guarantees individual and isolated inoculations. The COVID-19 vaccines would be delivered and administered to Nigerians almost at their doorsteps, and also, on a day and time convenient to the recipient.

The agency has also incorporated an elaborate public awareness campaign, including the use of traditional campaign models to penetrate the grassroots. Already, NPHCDA has kick-started explosive media campaigns to impinge the inoculation exercise on the psyche of Nigerians.

Furthermore, Shuaib has ingeniously streamlined and prioritized the category of Nigerians to first have the COVID-19 inoculation. Topmost on the initial and urgent list of focus are healthcare workers.

And there is wisdom in conceding the priority to medical personnel because they are responsible for treating COVID-19 patients and prone to its infection easily in the course of discharging their professional duties. Hence, it is thought that healthcare workers must necessarily be insulated from the threats and their confidence restored to place them on a pedestal to take full control of public health.

In the wisdom of NPHCDA, the next batch of prioritized Nigerians to receive the COVID-19 vaccines are those the agency has recognized as  “frontline workers.”  It covers the military, police, oil and gas workers, customs workers, and strategic leaders. These are people whose jobs expose them to contact with multitudes daily.

Quite sensitively, the preservation of the COVAX vaccines to sustain their potency and effectiveness is also very crucial. And so, despite logistics difficulties, the NPHCDA’s boss is distributing the COVID-19 vaccines by air to all states of the federation. However, those devoid of functional airports will have the vaccines delivered from the nearest airport by road, through vans with fitted cold cabins to prevent exposure to heat or extreme temperatures capable of destroying them.

These steps have assured Nigerians of a success story in the administration of the COVID-19 vaccines. Mr Faisal Shuaib has planned the immunization with COVID-19 vaccines excellently. He has set out for the journey and knows how to dodge or avoid the drawbacks to arrive at his destination unhurt, delivering the national assignment fabulously.

Nigerians must support his initiatives for a smooth immunization exercise so that the pandemic can be defeated in the country by all means. Nigeria must be rescued from the grip of the pandemic and, with Shuaib on the frontline, leading the assault, victory is sure and certain.

Agbese is a UK-trained human rights activists and public affairs commentator based in London.

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