By Aiyeku Timothy
The co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, has called on the Nigerian government to invest more in healthcare rather than focusing on the COVID-19 vaccines.
He said the country should divert resources budgeted for approved COVID-19 vaccines into the development of the country’s weak health care system.
“There is no doubt that the impact of putting money into the health system particularly the primary healthcare system will be very high in terms of saving children’s lives.
“Nigeria should not divert the very limited money that it has for health into trying to pay a high price for COVID-19 vaccines,” Mr Gates said.
His statement was a response to a question on Nigeria’s plan to invest about N400 billion to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population at $8 per vaccine.
The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, had in December 2020, told the senate that N156 billion will be needed in 2021 while N200 billion will be used for vaccination in 2022.
Bill Gates noted that the giant of Africa is already a beneficiary of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership to increase access to immunisation in poor countries.
“The key is that Nigeria is still eligible, and so, for a lot of those vaccines, they will come through the GAVI facility that we have raised money for,” Gates said.
He, therefore, stressed that Nigeria health sector is generally underfunded, adding that investing the proposed vaccine funds into other health-related areas would assist to deepen vaccine coverage and save more lives.
“I’m an advocate for the government to have more resources and prioritise health. Obviously, I’m not a voter in Nigeria, so Nigeria can decide that independently.
“So my advice is that the primary health care system is what is super important and that with those finite resources, you have to prioritise expenditure.
“And in that case, waiting for the GAVI vaccines would be the best thing and to put into other areas so that vaccine coverage rates, that are as low as 20 per cent in some areas, get up to 80/90 per cent to save children’s lives,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nigeria and most parts of Africa are banking on benefitting from the COVAX facility, an initiative run by the vaccine alliance, GAVI, to ensure equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
Through this initiative, the Nigerian government had announced that at least 100,000 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines will arrive the country by February.