The third wave of COVID-19 might be on in some parts of the country, but credit support programmes for the healthcare sector introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the wake of the pandemic last year are helping to keep fatalities relatively low, writes TONY CHUKWUNYEM
As several experts have pointed out, one of the main reasons Covid-19 continues to be such a huge problem for the global community is that the pandemic is simultaneously a public health and economic crisis.
Thus, while as the monetary authorities, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), had moved swiftly in early March last year to roll out intervention measures targeted at curbing the devastating impact of the pandemic on the nation’s economy, the apex bank subsequently complemented the initial measures by introducing a N100 billion Healthcare Sector Intervention Facility (HSIF), which, it said, would be used to support the health authorities to ensure laboratories, researchers and innovators, are able to access finance at single digit rate and work with global scientists to patent and produce vaccines and test kits in the country.
Indeed, as part of efforts to ensure that Nigeria was in a position to produce a vaccine for the disease, CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, on May 12, announced that the apex bank was developing a framework on a Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme (HSRDIS), to offer grants and credit to researchers, science institutions and biotechnology firms to develop a vaccine against the pandemic. He noted that if Nigeria was to wait for foreign countries to develop their own vaccines, it would be the last in the queue to receive curative remedies for the teeming population. As Emefiele put it at the time, “the CBN today challenges Nigerian scientists at home and in the diaspora to go back to their laboratories and develop a Nigerian vaccine. Once validated by the Health Authorities, the CBN will step in and do the needful for the sake of over 200 million Nigerians now confronted by Covid-19. “Our inability to accurately predict the extent to which the coronavirus could spread, and how long it would last, requires that we build sufficient capacity within our health system in order to contain the spread of the virus, state by state, city by city and preserve the lives of vulnerable Nigerians.” Specifically, in the guidelines on the HSRDIS, which the regulator later published, it stated that the scheme was specifically designed to “Trigger intense national R&D activities to develop a Nigerian vaccine, drugs and herbal medicines against the spread of COVID-19 and any other communicable or noncommunicable diseases through the provision of grants to biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies, institutions, researchers, and research institutes for the research and development of drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.” Furthermore, it stated that “the scheme is intended to boost domestic manufacturing of critical drugs and vaccines to ensure their sustainable domestic supply and reduce the bulk manufacturing costs of the drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines in Nigeria.” In addition, the CBN said the scheme was aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on imported drug products (synthetic and herbal) and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases as well as supporting the capacity of relevant health agencies towards attaining, “WHO Maturity Level 3,” a prerequisite, according to the apex bank, for the production of vaccines in Nigeria. Stating that the scheme would be funded from the developmental component of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEDF), the CBN fixed the grant limit for research activities at a maximum of N50 million and the limit for Development/ Manufacturing activities at a maximum of N500 million.
In early March this year, while disbursing the sum of N253.54 million, under the HSRDIS, to five researchers for the development of Nigerian Covid-19 vaccines and vaccines for other diseases, CBN Governor, Emefiele, disclosed that the apex bank had, as at then, spent the sum of N85.89 billion on the HSIF. He said: “The CBN has over time emphasized the need for us to move from a consumer-based economy to a more productive economy. To this, the bank has developed intervention programmes and schemes across various sectors including the health sector. “As part of proactive measures to support the growth of the Nigerian healthcare sector, the CBN introduced the Healthcare Sector Intervention Facility. “The facility is aimed at strengthening the sector’s capacity to meet the increasing demand for healthcare products and services, particularly pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare value chain players intending to build or expand capacity. “Currently, 82 projects, valued at N85.89 billion, have been financed through this scheme.
The projects financed comprise of 26 pharmaceutical and 56 medical projects across the country.” He also revealed that the body of experts on the HSRDIS, chaired by Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, Director- General of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), received 286 proposals from the general public, out of which 68 proposals had been evaluated. According to him, of those evaluated, “five proposals with significant merit valued at N253.54 million were recommended by the experts for financing. Some of the recommended proposals also have the potential to enable the development of the Nigerian vaccine for COVID-19.”
The CBN governor noted that the pandemic “exposed the fragil- ity” of the country’s healthcare system and the urgent need to look inward and build a more robust and sustainable healthcare. “The response by some advanced and developing countries also reflected the significant advancements that have occurred in the health sector in those countries. Their investments in R&D enabled health institutions to develop a rapid response to Coronavirus, with the deployment of vaccines in record time.” Perhaps, given that it is relatively less technical than the HSRDIS, the N100billion HSIF, has recorded more disbursements. For instance, according to the CBN’s Acting Director, Corporate Communications, Osita Nwanisobi, sums disbursed under the scheme, increased to N97.8 billion as at mid-July this year. Nwanisobi, who announced this during an award night organismed by the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) in Lagos, said the fund was committed to 98 healthcare projects across different regions in the country.
The Acting Director, Corporate Communications, who on behalf of his boss received the award conferred on Emefiele by the PSN for his contributions and support to the Nigeria healthcare industry, said that the apex bank was committed to funding research in healthcare to support the sector, adding that the overall goal of the CBN was to reduce medical tourism, provide better healthcare for the people and grow the economy.
Noting that Emefiele was running a people-centered CBN that strengthens the healthcare sector and supports local businesses, Nwanisobi said: “I want to let you know that the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele understands the need to invest in healthcare infrastructure. He knows that a time will come when even with your money, you will not be able to travel to attend to your health. That is while strengthening the local pharmaceutical industry is necessary this time.”
In fact, there are speculations in some quarters that the CBN could increase the N100billion HSIF when the fund runs out given that the apex bank had come under some sort of pressure from its Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to increase one of the Covid-19-induced intervention programmes, the Targeted Credit Facility (TCF), when the initial N50billion initially set aside for the scheme, quickly run out.
In the communiqué they issued at the end of their meeting last month, members of the MPC , for instance, noted that “on the N100 billion Healthcare Sector Intervention Facility (HSIF), N98.41 billion was disbursed for 103 health care projects, of which, 26 are pharmaceuticals and 77 are in the hospital services.
“Similarly, the sum of N232.54 million was disbursed to 5 beneficiaries under the CBN Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention (Grant) Scheme (HSRDIS) for the development of testing kits and devices for Covid-19 and lassa fever.”
Partnership with CACOVID
New Telegraph reports that apart from its credit support programmes in the health sector, the CBN also spear headed the setting up of the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), a group of leading private sector players, who came together at the height of the pandemic last year, to raise billions of naira to help the country build isolation centres as well as other medical facilities and equipment.
Although there is still a lot of uncertainty about if, and when the world would finally come to grips with Covid-19, analysts point out that even if Nigerian scientists do not succeed in developing a vaccine before the virus is tamed, the CBN’s credit support measures have had a positive impact on the country’s healthcare sector.