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Local Vaccine Production Can Save One Million Lives, N12b Annually -Experts

Angela Onwuzoo

The need for local vaccine production in Nigeria need not be over-emphasized considering that over one million children of immunizable age die from vaccine preventable diseases every year. Currently the country depends entirely on imported vaccines for immunization and spends over N12 billion on importing various vaccines.

Not only are the vaccines imported, but its entire cold chain as well – cold room, refrigerators, deep freezers for cold boxes, syringes, needles, diluents  are brought into the country from abroad too, a situation that could be avoided if steps are taken to resume local production which Nigeria did in the past.

Often times, the country faces stock out of vaccines  sometimes as a result of non-availability of the vaccines  from the manufacturers or delay in the release of fund by the Federal  Government, thereby, increasing the already alarming rate of infant mortality in the country. Nigeria has the second highest child mortality rate in the world after India.

The resurgence recently   of the wild polio virus and warnings by scientists about possible Yellow Fever outbreak are reasons why urgent steps must be taken to ensure sustainable vaccine supply through local production, experts at a recent workshop on yellow fever vaccine production organised by the Nigerian Academy of Science said.

They argued that    if the  children of this country will never have to confront the threat of vaccine preventable diseases, there is need for government to activate its joint venture company, Biovaccines Nigeria Limited to enable it commence local production of vaccines without further delay,  insisting that such move would address  vaccine  accessibility  and consequently end the era of 100 per cent dependence on foreign vaccine producers to immunise the children  against vaccine preventable diseases that ravage our  society.

For the experts, it is high time Nigeria looked critically at long-term opportunities to building local capacity to manufacture, not just equipment and materials necessary for immunization, but also for the production of vaccines.

President, Nigerian Academy of Scienc e(NAS), Prof. Oyewale Tomori,  in  an interview with The Union, said  government should do away with politics as far the matter is concerned,  stressing that local vaccine production is achievable  in Nigeria and should be pursued vigorously. According to him, that is the only way of ensuring constant availability of routine vaccines in the country.

On what should be done to fast track  vaccine production in Nigeria, Tomori who is a renowned Virologist, explained: ” About 11 years ago, the Federal Government and a private industry, May and Baker, came together to resuscitate  vaccine production in Nigeria through the Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory, Yaba, Lagos now known as Biovaccines Limited. He opined that government should give support to private sector operators in the area of vaccine production, stressing that the  government must not only support by   controlling  the production process  but also by  getting or ordering its vaccines  from the private local producers.

On her part, Director General and Chief Executive Officer, Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO) Dr. Mrs. Gloria Elemo, said there should be a conscious effort by the government to put money into science and technology to have a better result of the production.

She stated: “Once the fund is there, the manpower would be there. Nigeria is blessed with large number of manpower. In Africa, Nigeria has a huge number of experts in science and technology. We also saw what happened during the Ebola crisis. The world was looking at Nigeria to give them solutions because she had the expertise. During the Ebola outbreak, there was conscious effort by the government to tackle the problem and money was released and we all saw the result. So, same   should be done for local vaccine production if we must make progress.”

Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, May and Baker Nigeria Plc, Pharm. Nnamdi Okafor, said the commencement of local vaccine production in the country would save Nigeria over N12billion that it spends on vaccine importation annually.  Okafor disclosed to The Union that his company, May and Baker, would continue to push for local vaccine production in Nigeria to help save the lives of over one million children who die annually from vaccine preventable diseases.

He said: “As the first and leading pharmaceutical company in Nigeria, May and Baker has always desired to point the way for Nigeria’s healthcare industry.  That desire led to the decision to partner with the government for local vaccine production in Nigeria through the joint venture company called Biovaccines Nigeria Limited.”

He revealed that May and Baker has over 70 years experience, expertise, knowledge and skills in drug manufacturing and vaccine distribution.

According to him, the company intends going into the vaccine production business to also guarantee regularity of quality, safe and affordable vaccine supply in the country. Others are to make substantial savings in foreign exchange used for procuring vaccines and to  earn foreign exchange from the sale of vaccines produced in excess of local demand.

Okafor also noted that Biovaccines seeks to provide employment for Nigerians and ensure Nigeria’s participation in an industry that is at the cutting edge of science.

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