With the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s recent release of guidelines on its Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme (HSRDIS), the Federal Government can now claim that Nigeria is among nations that are taking steps to develop a vaccine and drugs against the COVID-19, writes Tony Chukwunyem
n early April, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, had announced a fiscal stimulus and other intervention measures that the Federal Government planned to use to tackle the effects of COVID-19 and the sharp drop in oil prices.
Highlights of the stimulus package unveiled by the minister included the establishment of a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund to upgrade healthcare facilities and fund Special Public Works Programme to generate employment; the provision of N102.5 billion in resources to be available for direct interventions in the healthcare sector, Value Added Tax (VAT) exemptions for medical and pharmaceutical products and partnership between the ministry and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on a debt and interest moratorium for states on Federal Government and CBN-funded loans, in order to create fiscal space for the states.
Still, as analysts have pointed out, as Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation, it does not exactly speak very well of Nigeria’s COVID-19 response that the country is not one of the places where 26 COVID -19 candidate vaccines are in clinical evaluation, as at July 31, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Grants for COVID-19 vaccine development
So, it was clearly as part of its efforts to ensure that Nigeria is in a position to produce a vaccine for the disease that the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, on May 12, announced that the apex bank was developing a framework to offer grants and credit to researchers, science institutions and biotechnology firms to develop a vaccine against the pandemic.
The CBN boss said 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.
He said: “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. This requires that we all come together to support the work of the Presidential Task Force in its determination to save lives and stem the pandemic.”
Noting that CBN had also launched a N100 billion healthcare intervention fund that would allow practitioners in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors to be able to access finance at single digit rate, Emefiele said the regulator’s objective was to improve the capacity of the country’s health system to address emerging public health challenges.
According to him, the possibility of the pandemic persisting and resulting in countries shutting their borders and restricting food imports cannot be completely ruled out.
In fact, as he put it in a widely published Op-Ed at the time: “What if these restrictions become the new normal? What if the COVID-19 pandemic continues in a second wave or another pandemic occurs in which all borders are shut, and food imports are significantly restricted? What if we cannot seek medical care outside Nigeria and must rely on local hospitals and medical professionals?”
He further stated that “we do not know what the world will look like after this pandemic. Countries may continue to look inwards and globalisation as we know it today may be dead for a generation. Therefore, as a nation, we cannot afford to continue relying on the world for our food, education and healthcare.”
Thus, in the guidelines on its Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme (HSRDIS), the CBN stated that the scheme s 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 non-communicable 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.”
It added 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.”
Specifically, CBN said the broad objectives of the scheme included: Providing grants for R&D in new or revalidation of drug molecule, phytomedicines and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in the country; boosting domestic production of validated drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in Nigeria and curb its dependence on other countries for such drugs and vaccines; improving the capacity of pharmaceutical companies, institutions, researchers, and research institutes in the development of approved Nigerian drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines for infectious diseases and facilitating partnership between researchers and industry into the research and development of drugs, phytomedicines and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases in the country.
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 regulator, for the production of vaccines in Nigeria.
On eligible research and development activities for consideration under the scheme, the CBN said these included: “Research and development of candidate drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines validated by relevant health authorities for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases; manufacturing of drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines validated by relevant health authorities for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases; Red biotechnological R&D in new health technology for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases; research partnership between academia and industry into the development drugs and vaccines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases and Research and development into validated phytomedicines for the control, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.”
The CBN said that candidate vaccines undergoing pre-clinical testing or trials would not be eligible for consideration under the scheme.
It, however, stated that candidate vaccines undergoing clinical testing or trials will be eligible for consideration under the scheme “if considered to have high potential to cross the clinical trial stage and prospects of scale by the Body of Experts (BoE).”
“In applying for the grant, the applicant shall be required to have conducted preclinical testing of the candidate drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines, and obtained certification from relevant health authorities for further research and development. Special consideration shall be given to candidate drugs, herbal medicines and vaccines with high scientific merit against emerging infections and contribute to the development of the Nigerian vaccine,” the CBN said.
CBN explained that the BoE would be constituted from the academia and industry to review validated research proposal submitted and recommend for financing, as appropriate, adding that the BoE would meet regularly to appraise the research and development project and submit progress reports to it.
According to the guidelines, the BoE will be made up of two independent research specialists appointed by the CBN; one nominee from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC); one nominee from the Nigeria Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD); one nominee from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC); one nominee from the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) and one nominee from the Federal Ministry of Health.
The rules also stipulate that the chairman of the BoE will be appointed by CBN.
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.
On the tenor for research activities’ grants, the CBN said it would “not be more than two years from the date of release of fund,” while grants for development/manufacturing activities, would be: “Not more than one year from the date of release of fund.”
As several analysts noted at the weekend, even if Nigerian scientists do not succeed in developing vaccine before the spread of the coronavirus is contained, CBN’s HSRDIS would still positively impact the country’s healthcare sector.