Nigeria: Assessing Private Sector Intervention in COVID-19 Fight

3 July 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has overwhelmed health systems around the world in an unprecedented manner. It has become a global health, economic and humanitarian challenge that governments alone cannot handle.

This has prompted a "charge to duty" response from the private sector, such that has never been witnessed in history.

Without a doubt, the pandemic poses a great threat to human existence, gravely challenging lives and businesses.

However, rather than gloom, business organisations have gone the extra mile beyond the commonly known corporate social responsibility initiatives to being more actively involved in the collective effort of preserving lives and livelihoods, either individually or collectively, to save humanity from a common enemy.

In Nigeria, Access Bank Plc is leading the biggest collaborative effort in recent memory, involving more than 50 private sector corporates across the country, working with the federal government, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organisation for the singular objective of not only fighting the pandemic, but also eliminating it from the country.

The partnership, under the umbrella of the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), is said to be the brainchild of Herbert Wigwe, the managing director and chief executive officer of Access Bank Plc.

The initiative is a practical demonstration of how an idea can translate into an unprecedented mobilisation of support across sectors for government's efforts at preserving the lives of Nigerians in the face of a global threat.

This is seen in some circles as running in the DNA of Access Bank, an institution with a tendency to be daring, audacious and willing to take risks, as long as the objective is to impact positively on the lives of all Nigerians. It is also in line with its belief that "doing good is good for society".

The bank's role in the collaboration underscores its well-known visionary and exemplary leadership initiative in times of crises. This must be viewed against the background of the fact that the pandemic is a challenge like no other, and in no way comparable to Ebola that was successfully nipped in the bud before it could cause much havoc back in 2014.

Worthy of note is the fact that all the organizations that have signed on to the project have relegated business interests to the background, focusing on the safety and wellbeing of Nigerians.

The mission of CACOVID is to work with the government and other agencies to provide direct support to the country's health sector, both public and private, through provision of technical and operational support, as well as funding for the setting up of testing, isolation and treatment centres in the six geo-political zones for the management of COVID-19 cases.

It also seeks, through aggressive awareness campaigns, to educate the public and secure its buy-in for the fight in order to prevent the pandemic from getting out of control, as it is increasingly becoming the case in some parts of the world. It is doing this through advocacy for strict adherence to safety guidelines stipulated by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and NCDC. There is also the very critical objective of working together to ensure preservation of livelihoods during and after the pandemic.

The Coalition is working with the core values of humanity, integrity, transparency and professionalism, with activities targeted at making very significant and highly impactful social investments in the fight against COVID-19 in all its ramifications throughout the country, primarily focusing on saving lives and livelihoods. This is more so considering the fact that the fight against the pandemic is a long haul, with no end in sight.

The Coalition kick started its activities with mobilization of funds that run into billions of naira, domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria - an active participant in the initiative - followed by provision of 1, 000-bed isolation and treatment facilities in Lagos; 500 beds in Kano; 210 in Rivers, as well as 200 beds each in Enugu, Bornu and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. It is currently working to set up facilities in Katsina, Ogun, Bayelsa, Anambra, Bauchi and Plateau states.

The intervention has led to significant scaling up of testing across the country, which partly accounts for the high positive cases that are recorded daily. This is a contrast to the low figures that were recorded long after the crisis began in Nigeria in February, 2020, which painted a false picture of the true situation in a country of about 200 million people - due to lack of testing. Availability of more facilities for treatment and management of patients has also provided Nigerians with relatively easy access to treatment. It can only be imagined what the situation would have been if the private sector collaboration had not come at the time it did, especially considering the country's week health system.

Because of the peculiar situation in Lagos which is the epicenter of COVID-19 in Nigeria, CACOVID is working to set up a permanent structure in the state, which will be fully equipped with medical supplies and trained personnel to cater to the needs of those who may be affected by the virus. It also plans to bring in experts from around the world to provide technical and training support, in the event that there may be need to expand its activities.

Nigerians believe the involvement of the private sector in the fight against COVID-19 will quicken the process of not only flattening the curve of the virus, but also the ultimate goal of eradicating it in the country.

This belief stems from the fact that the Coalition has taken from the government the huge burden of finding the required resources to fund a war which end is not foreseeable at the moment - in these difficult times when the government is cash strapped trying to fund other equally important developmental projects amid falling oil prices.

It has left to the government the responsibility to formulate policies and guidelines, and also provide the necessary political backing, while it mobilises the resources required to prosecute the war. The latter is perhaps the most critical component of the war.

With the COVID-19 partnership, Wigwe has once again demonstrated in practical terms Access Bank's philosophy - which defines its existence from the perspective of offering more than banking - as well as the far sightedness and visionary leadership for which the bank is well known.

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