The recently unveiled National Vaccine Policy (NVP) for Nigeria is, from all indications, a potential game-changer in the country’s quest to attain success and self-sufficiency in local vaccine production. The policy, which was formulated by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), in conjunction with local and international partners, is primarily designed to ensure vaccines availability and self-sufficiency for the mitigation of vaccines-preventable diseases.
Moreover, a document released on the NVP by the FMOH, shows that the policy seeks, among other objectives, to “promote local production and uptake of vaccines that meet all global quality standards and ensure vaccines security in line with the requirements of the Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health Coverage; achieve ownership of all vaccines supply chain management processes in order to improve accessibility of vaccines to optimise utilisation; support vaccines research and development towards the introduction of new and improved vaccines, using innovative technologies; engender sustainable access to funding for local vaccines production and availability, and for research and development using innovative technologies.”
This, indeed, is a timely and very remarkable initiative by the Nigerian government, especially considering the dire situation in the nation and beyond, as occasioned by the raging COVID-19 pandemic. However, we must emphasise that achieving the laudable objectives of the policy will only come through a conscientious commitment by the government and all its partners to go beyond articulation of the policy’s objectives to pursuing full implementation. Truly, Nigeria has never seriously lacked well-articulated transformational policies in every sector of its national life; on the contrary, the challenge has always been with marshalling the necessary political will, as well as resources and mechanisms, to bring the visions to fruition. This must not happen with the current vaccine policy.
Quite commendably, the Department of Food and Drugs of the FMOH, in conjunction with other stakeholders, has recently held a validation meeting on the policy, in Lagos State. The strategic event, held from 6 to 7 September, brought together experts from the different segments of the nation’s health industry, as well as representatives of international development agencies. The agencies and organisations included the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bloom Public Health and Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI).
The robust validation meeting not only provided stakeholders the opportunity to make crucial inputs into the policy but to also develop strategies that will drive its successful implementation. This, again, is a step in the right direction and we urge the government to sustain this tempo with the necessary gusto. Aside from providing the necessary funding, the government must actively mobilise and engage experts and scientists to be part of the local vaccines production, research, development and vaccines security architecture.
We also call on all agencies of government and other partners that have been mandated to help in driving the objectives of the policy to handle their roles with the seriousness that the implementation of the momentous policy requires. The Federal Ministry of Health, the Vaccine Governing Council/Technical Working Groups, the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, (NCDC), the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and all others must be alive to their corresponding roles.
Already, the Honourable Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who was represented at the policy validation meeting by the Director, Food and Drugs Department of the Federal Ministry of Health, Pharm. Olubukola Ajayi, has assured that all state ministries of health are being carried along in the policy development and that soft copies of the policy document have been sent to them for necessary inputs.
In addition to this, however, the advice from Professor Chimezie Anyakora, CEO, Bloom Public Health, who is actively involved with the government on the new policy, is very pivotal. According to him, “There will be a level playing ground in order to ensure sustainability. There is no intention to promote monopoly through the joint venture with Biovaccines. We shall carry everyone along in this project and the ultimate agenda is to ensure a robust vaccine policy for Nigeria.”
Going by this and other recommendations at the stakeholders’ validation meeting, it is evidently clear that the success and sustainability of this ground-breaking policy depend largely on the effective commitment, cooperation, coordination, and monitoring by all concerned stakeholders; while at the same time averting and addressing bottlenecks that could hinder actualisation of the programme’s objectives.