The COVID-19 pandemic, undoubtedly, affected Nigeria’s socioeconomic wellbeing and also exposed the inadequacy and vulnerability of the country’s healthcare system just as it created medical and economic emergencies across the world.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as a way of cushioning the effects of the pandemic on Nigerians established a fund to assist households, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). It set aside N50billion Targeted Credit Facility (TCF) – stimulus package to support households and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and also spent huge amounts to support farmers to boost food production.
The CBN’s direct intervention in the Nigerian health sector, to boost capacity, improve infrastructure, support Research and Development, and to enhance preparedness against future pandemics has been most germane.
Sometimes in March, the CBN awarded the sum of N253.54 million grants to five researchers under its Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme (HSRDIS).
The HSRDIS is part of the apex bank’s effort to help strengthen the public healthcare system with innovative financing of Research and Development in new and improved drugs, vaccines and diagnosis of infectious diseases.
The scheme, which was initiated in July, 2020, was alo part of CBN’s policy response to COVID-19.
It was designed to trigger intense national Research and Development activities to develop a Nigerian vaccine, drugs and herbal medicines against the spread of COVID-19 and other communicable or non-communicable diseases.
The focus was to provide grants to biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies.
The Scheme was 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.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, commended CBN for providing support to the health sector, especially with the outbreak of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 came with adverse and negative effects, but it has also provided an opportunity for us to transform our healthcare delivery system.
“This HSRDIS by the CBN will translate to establishing formidable institutions so that when we are confronted with another pandemic, future generations will benefit from those institutions,’’ he said.
According to the CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, COVID-19 exposed the fragilities of Nigeria‘s healthcare delivery system.
Emefiele said that a healthy and safe workplace was necessary for continuous economic growth as well as stability of the financial system.
He described healthcare as the bedrock of the development of any nation, which deserved adequate funding for its research and development.
“CBN, working with the Federal Government, has decided that we must begin to look inwards and provide for ourselves.
“That was the main reason why CBN set up the Body of Experts to steer the HSRDIS.
“Emphasis on Research and Development in developed countries has helped in the development of COVID-19 vaccines,’’ he said.
Emefiele said that over 200 proposals were received out of which 68 had been graded and the best five picked.
He said that the scheme would provide grants to enable Research and Development activities into vaccines, drugs and herbal medicines for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
He called on other corporate institutions to collaborate with the CBN to fund Research and Development for the good of all Nigerians, while urging the recipients to make judicious use of the grants.
The Director General of the Nigeria Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Dr Obi Adigwe, said that the institute had the capacity to develop world class Phyto-medicinal products to fight infectious diseases if properly funded.
Adigwe emphasised the need for Nigerians to appreciate the importance of pharmaceutical Research and Development for the country to achieve medicine security.
He cited the COVID-19 pandemic as creating opportunities for improved funding of research into tropical and other diseases, adding that NIPRD had already developed protocols for testing of locally made ventilators, and disinfectants delivery devices.
“Funding is integral to achieving medicine security. Scientists in NIPRD are world class, and we intend to make Nigeria the hub of pharmaceutical research and development in Africa.
“Some funding has come in from the Central Bank of Nigeria in recent times, to support Research and Development of Phyto-Medicines, but it should not be left for government alone,’’ Adigwe said.
Also in response to the pandemic, the CBN took measures to extend credit facilities of up to N100 billion to support intervention efforts geared towards the healthcare sector
The aim of the intervention, according to CBN, was to stimulate economic activities locally within the healthcare sector.
It assured that the move would make products and services in the sector readily available to service Nigerians, thereby building, diversifying and expanding the capacity of the Nigerian healthcare sector.
The intervention was aimed at reducing medical tourism; providing steady financing for infrastructure development and providing affordable credit to support local production by pharmaceutical companies.
“It would also reduce dependency on foreign healthcare and conserving foreign exchange for healthcare,” the apex bank stated.
In March, the apex bank announced that it had disbursed over N85 billion to no fewer than 80 projects, under the scheme.
The bank’s Director of Development Finance, Mr Yila Yusuf said that the projects cut across medical, pharmaceutical, herbal and other related products, and even a funeral home.
“In the healthcare credit support scheme, we have disbursed over N85 billion to more than 80 projects, mainly to reposition and enhance capacity of hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. We even financed a funeral home,’’ he said.
The CBN is mainly mandated to ensure monetary and price stability; issue legal tender currency in Nigeria; maintain external reserves to safeguard the international value of the legal tender currency.
It also has the mandate to promote a sound financial system; and act as banker, while providing economic and financial advice to the Federal Government.
However, over the years, the apex bank has performed other major developmental functions, focussed on all the key sectors of the Nigerian economy, like the agricultural, industrial and health sectors.
Nigerians remain hopeful that its recent intervention through funding of healthcare Research and Development, as well as its Healthcare Credit Support Scheme would effectively stem the tide of medical tourism.