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How prepared is Nigeria for next epidemic?

 

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus has, therefore, warned that the end of COVID-19 as a global health emergency should not imply that global health threat is over.

 

The outbreak and fast spread of diseases in recent decades are pointers to the need for world leaders to increase public health spending, particularly as it relates to prevention and control of epidemics.

This was further laid bare by COVID-19 which is suspected to have emerged in China but, like a wild fire, swept through countries and regions in a matter of days, leaving 6.9 million people dead and stretching health facilities beyond their limits. For now, it appears the worst is over.

The Director-General, World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus has, therefore, warned that the end of COVID-19 as a global health emergency should not imply that global health threat is over.

He said this at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland as the UN agency launched a global network to monitor disease threats.

“The world should be prepared to respond to a disease outbreak of even deadlier potential than COVID-19.

“When the next pandemic comes knocking – and it will – we must be ready to answer decisively, collectively and equitably”, said Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopia Minister of Health”, he said.

According to WHO pandemic preparedness means having national response plans, resources, and the capacity to support operations in the event of a pandemic.

It says pandemic preparedness includes programmes that aim specifically at preventing issues that arise from pandemics such as a shortage of personal protective equipment, hospital capacity, and vaccine testing.

Effective disease outbreak response has historically been challenging in Nigeria. Factors, say a team of scholars led by Testimony Olumade in a study published in Aim Public Health

They identified such challenges to include poor healthcare funding, inadequate diagnostic capacity, political instability, insecurity, and personnel shortage.

The international community recognises that some countries such as Nigeria have weak health systems as such they cannot cope with pandemics therefore are taking measures to ensure that this challenge is addressed.

One of such efforts is the International Health Regulations (IHR), an agreement entered into by 196 countries including 194 WHO member states.

Nigeria’s huge population, expansive land mass, and tropical location, make it vulnerable to pandemics. It is therefore expected to be among one of the countries with best pandemic response mechanisms. However, this does not seem to be the case.

For instance, Nigeria was in the frontline when Ebola virus broke out in 2014, and also took a hit from COVID-19. This is in addition to other outbreaks such as meningitis, monkeypox, Lassa Fever, measles and cholera.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) says it is doing its best to ensure that Nigerians do not suffer from future pandemics.

The NCDC leads in strengthening the Nigeria’s core competence in tackling pandemics and diseases.

The agency however points at one major challenge that can work against its efforts and perhaps erode the successes it has recorded in disease control in the country—security

The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, said this in Abuja, at the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) and the International Research Center of Excellence (IRCE) Scientific Seminar the country needs a peacetime health system to be better prepared for the next pandemic.

To live up its responsibilities, NCDC requires lots of funds but shortfalls in public health security expenditure have persisted over the years.

In 2018, the Federal Government of Nigeria developed a five-year National Action Plan for Health Security (NAPHS)

The NAPHS provides a roadmap to improve health security in Nigeria; from 2018 – 2022. There is also 2021-2025 component to be implemented through a multi-sectoral approach hinged on the principles under ‘One Health’ principle, involving the Federal Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Environment,

But poor funding has hampered its implementation.

For instance, in 2022 more than N37.8 million was allocated for the project but only N18.9 million is budgeted for 2023., which is approximately a 50 per cent drop.

Among other budgetary deficits there is also a 50 per cent drop in spending for the development of national policies on disease surveillance and response as in 2022 N23.6 million was allocated while N11.8 million is budgeted for 2023.

In a recent report, Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI)-funded Prevent Epidemics (PE) said Nigeria’s health financing landscape is characterised by suboptimal government investment with budgetary allocation to health being less than 15 per cent of its total annual budget.

The advocacy organisation said that to reduce the risk and effect of public health incidents, health security should be both proactive and reactive.

“Pandemics, public health emergencies, and weak health systems not only have implications on people in terms of lives lost, but also pose greater risks to the national economy and security.

“It is therefore important to ensure adequate allocation and efficient utilization of resources for health security,” it said.

Dr Gafar Alawode of the Development Governance International Consult said that health security requires a multi-sector approach to be effective.

According to him, it involves collaboration and partnerships among such sectors as health sector education, food and agriculture, water and sanitation, security, and environment.

Alawode said that, it was important to foster a policy direction that would improve the social determinants of health security through effective collaboration between the health sector and other sectors.

Dr Solomon Chollom, a virologist advocates continuous collaboration in preparedness, connecting surveillance, risk reduction and capacity building, investment and commitment by both the private and public sectors to overcome the challenges posed by pandemics.

It is obvious that without the right level of investment and in the right channels Nigeria cannot be said to the prepared for the next pandemic which will happen only as a matter of time.

As Nigeria basks in the euphoria of a new administration under the leadership of President Bola Tinubu, it is expected that health security should be a priority through the funding and provision of necessary logistics to pandemic time frontline institutions. (NANFeatures)

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