Recently, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, confirmed the existence of the B.1.671 variant of the COVID-19 virus (first detected in India) in Nigeria.
The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, gives insight into the development and other related aspects of the National response to the pandemic. Exerpts:
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, has been working very hard with its partners to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on Nigerians.
It is unfair to label the new variant "Indian variant" because it was detected first in that country.
That it was first detected in India does not mean it actually came out of India and the B.1.617 strain can now be found in 44 countries around the world.
When you look at our risk in today's virus and I like talking about it in three broad categories:
One is the risk associated with the virus itself, and new variants. The second is how we mitigate that risk, third is what people do.
Human behaviour and population behaviour is the link to the guidelines that have just been issued. Be rest assured that we are working very hard to find the viruses and sequence them.
We have about four million vaccine doses and from the efforts that we put into these from different agencies with each dose, we know that the vaccine is very efficient.
The primary focus of our work is to get new supplies of vaccine doses so we can start to vaccinate a new set of people, and so for the first set we have almost completed two million vaccinations.
In a few weeks' time literally, everyone that got the first dose will be invited for the second dose and we have assured everyone that there is a second dose waiting for him or her.
Lagos, FCT, Kaduna have all gotten a little bit more than other states because of the burden of the infection.
The vaccination programme has had its challenges. Yes, there was quite a bit of hesitancy in the beginning but I think we are ending strong and the challenge is on our side to work with the global supply chain to make sure we have more vaccines in the country to give to our people.
The third area was the reissuing of the guidelines. Nothing in those guidelines is actually new, what happened was we generally stopped adhering to them across the country. We started behaving as if nothing was happening as if there was no pandemic.
And learning lessons from what happened in India, a country that is very similar to ours in many ways, understanding what triggered the resurgence of the virus in India. It is most likely to link to religious festivals and election campaigns that brought people together, all creating superspreader events. the thing with India is that not just that the numbers increased, the numbers increased exponentially.
So could this really be puzzling to us that one, two, three, or four superspreader events happening one after the other, are like the election campaigns or religious festivals or whatever else like the Christmas period that led to the second wave in Nigeria?
If we let these things happen in Nigeria, they will act as incredible risks, and this is something that we do not want and must do everything possible to prevent.
It is really for the state governments to enforce the guidelines and ensure that people comply. We the citizens must play our part, in fact none of us can do this on our own, we must continue to work together with all the people
Right now, there is no evidence that the AstraZeneca vaccine is less efficacious against the strain from India.
The challenge we have is getting enough people vaccinated as quickly as possible in order to prevent them from having the infection.
But we are working very hard and that is our biggest challenge due to the global (vaccine) shortages. Secondly, the challenge we talked about, is the enforcement at the state level; to me one of the high points the pandemic has brought out in this response is the relationship of states with the federal government.
Reduction in new cases
One thing that Nigerians can take 100 percent to the bank is that we will be as transparent as possible as we can with all the numbers of testing and sequencing at all times. For the number of cases that we find have, we announced it every night.
The numbers have reduced significantly. Testing is still very good we test 30,000 to 40,000 people every week and out of that we have 1.0 per cent positivity rate. So we have out of every 100 people we test, one will be positive. We are fairly positive and confident in the robustness of our numbers and that is validated by many other data seen.
The number of people that walked into the hospitals with respiratory symptoms has reduced across the board. The number of calls that we get in our call centres has reduced. People dropped their guard and that is human behaviour. It is normal that there will be some form of complaints. It is very hard to manage a treatment centre that is empty the first month and second month with a team of doctors and nurses.
Such scarce resources cannot be kept in a treatment centre with no cases. What we are now encouraging at the centres is to manage human resources but to always keep some resources available.
We managed to get through a very tricky situation last year and now our numbers are low let's not get complacent and let us hold on to the fragile game and be doing what we are doing both as a people and as a government.
The first thing is that vaccine fraud is not really as simple as many people assume it is. It is complex. Let me explain it in three ways. Firstly, the supply side, the development of new vaccines from candidates to new vaccines. We have seen miracles that happened last year, many vaccines were developed some are still in the pipeline.
The efforts are now going on but that has now highlighted the deficiency of manufacturing capacity from the continent completely, so there is an effort now from the African CDC and African Union to ensure that many African countries are better placed in the development and manufacturing of vaccines, so that is very important that it is happening. What that has led to is that there is a supply deficit. As much as you would like to throw money at it, whether it is appropriated, whether is available, the challenge is that there is no vaccine to buy. The supply has been so limited.
We banked on getting most of our vaccines from COVAX, which then relied on India for most of their supplies. But when the escalation of cases started in India, the supply was pushed further down the line. So we have a delay in getting the second batch of the vaccines.
What the government is doing right now is mitigating the delay through various other arrangements both through bilateral and multilateral efforts with the African Union. We are still fairly confident in a month or two we will get the next set of vaccines arriving in the country.
4m vaccine doses
The NPHCDA has worked intensively with the states to manage the four million doses more than any African country. Just under two million has been administered and the rest have been kept for the second dose to ensure every other person that got the first two million get the second side. We have been managing to match supply with demand.
The NPHCDA sometimes has been busy countering a lot of negative statements from people in the society you would not really expect such to be coming from. But so far, we have managed the available supply.
We have big voices in the international space that the current level of access to vaccines is a shame to the global community, that we can not accept a world whereby such a large population simply does not have access to vaccines because of an inability to pay. There is a big effort at the moment to ensure equitable access. We have medium-term challenges to make sure we are never in a position like this in the future.
How do we do this? By investing in research and development. Research into vaccine manufacturing and then lift some of the technology bottlenecks. We have done these in some other sectors.
Vanguard News Nigeria