Stakeholders in the health sector have commended the recent move by the Federal Government to ensure that Nigeria embarks upon the production of life-saving vaccines locally.
They noted that the approval of the joint venture agreement between the Federal Government and May and Baker Plc will ensure that 20 per cent of the vaccines used in Nigeria are manufactured locally.
For the National President, Nigerian Medical Association, Prof. Mike Ogirima, the approval of the agreement is long overdue.
According to the NMA boss, if the agreement, which was signed 12 years ago after the Federal Government shut down its Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory in Yaba, had been in place, the 324 deaths recorded during the meningitis outbreak could have been avoided.
The NMA boss noted that the initiative would, however, provide a source of medical revenue for the country.
Ogirima said, “During the recent cerebrospinal meningitis outbreak in some parts of the North, We kept wondering what happened to our local vaccine production. This is because as at the period between 1947 and 1991, Nigeria was exporting vaccines to other African countries.
“But, now that the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, has dusted the file of the agreement that has been dormant in the ministry since 2014 and it has been ratified and it is going to be run by Bio Vaccines Limited, we are hopeful. We know it will cost a lot of money to begin production because the equipment in the Yaba laboratory is obsolete.”
The President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Mr. Ahmed Yakasai, said the agreement, which requires about 49 per cent equity funding from the Federal Government and a counterpart 51 per cent funding from May and Baker Plc, would serve as a model for greater collaboration in the sector.
Yakasai said that apart from meeting local needs, Nigeria would also be able to export vaccines to other African countries.
He said, “The Federal Government deserves commendation for acceding to our calls to look inward in solving the hydra-headed problem of vaccines and medicines shortages in Nigeria.
“This will go a long way to guarantee the availability of vaccines for use during routine immunisation and vaccines for use during a national emergency as observed recently when there was an outbreak of meningitis.
“May and Baker Plc, as one of the few Nigerian pharmaceutical companies with the World Health Organisation pre-qualification Good Manufacturing Production certification, will surely be able to enhance its capacity utilisation and explore opportunities for the exportation of vaccines to global markets.
“We, however, call on May and Baker to take full advantage of this onerous opportunity to fulfill its vision of “improving the quality of life, throughout life and for all lives.”
The association noted that it was high time the government extended a similar PPP model to local pharmaceutical companies in the production of anti-malaria and anti-infective drugs to reduce the nation’s dependence on importation.
Yakasai noted that the local production of vaccines and other classes of medicines is the only way that availability and affordability of safe and efficacious medicines, as well as vaccines could be assured during an outbreak.
Meanwhile, the Managing Director, May and Baker Plc, Mr. Nnamdi Okafor, said the timing of the ratification of the agreement was apt as Nigeria, currently experiencing forex scarcity, would be able to save N4 to N6bn it spent on vaccine importation.
Okafor also said that Nigerians would no longer need to wait for vaccines to be shipped to them when there is an outbreak of disease.
“Vaccine availability is a health security issue globally. Before the meningitis vaccines came during the last outbreak, about 300 Nigerians had died. If we were producing locally, the manufacturer would stop all other productions to focus on that particular vaccine.
“It costs $15 to produce a dose of most vaccines. Many African countries cannot afford to pay and manufacturers are not willing to produce unless governments pay upfront or formally request it.
“This model is not sustainable. Local production will reduce the unit cost overtime because Nigeria spends over N4bn to N6bn importing them annually. We will save freight charges and money spent on other logistics.”
Okafor said that the initiative would help to build the technical capacities of scientists, engineers and the value chain in the pharmaceutical sector, which have not been exposed to the latest technologies being deployed in vaccine production.
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