The Nigeria Institute of Medical Research has highlighted the opportunities and challenges holding it back from committing to the production of vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
NIMR Director General, Prof. Babatunde Salako, gave the highlights on Tuesday in Abuja, at the maiden edition of the Nigerian Conference of Applied and Field Epidemiology (NiCAFE) 2021, with the theme: “Building Back Better: COVID-19 and other disease outbreaks”
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the conference, organised by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, was aimed at strengthening the country’s emergency preparedness in the event of infection outbreaks.
The conference also provided an opportunity to discuss the epidemiology of infectious diseases in Nigeria and their impacts on regional and global health security.
Speaking on Nigeria’s preparedness for clinical trials, vaccine research and development, Salako gave insights into clinical trials and vaccine development, requirements, monitoring and evaluation, safety and protocols.
“Research is very important to inform decision making for case management and public health response.
“We have to ensure effective collaboration to overcome research challenges, such as lack of belief in local researchers and scientists; funding for research, procurement roadblocks,” he said.
He highlighted challenges to include the lack of belief in local scientists and researchers, poor funding, lack of synergy, procurement and regulatory roadblocks.
On what the country’s preparedness needed for clinical trials, vaccine research and development, Salako called for a pragmatic solution that should include expedited ethics, regulations review, generic contacts and modified research enrollment procedures.
“Joint stimulatory exercise for outbreaks and clinical research preparedness by the NCDC, researchers and other stakeholders.
Government support, financial, political, operational. Cross border collaboration and partnership with vaccines developing companies,” he said of the other required measures.
The NIMR DG added that the country’s ability to carry out useful clinical research during diseases outbreaks required all hands to be on deck in pre-planning, pre-positioning and practice of research responses.
“This opportunity needs to be harnessed as it has eluded us several times. Now is the time to act, we have the ingredients, but we need to cook it.
“Deliberate capacity building in clinical trials and vaccines research and development is required to improve our current state of preparedness, we need strong partnerships across the globe.
“There should be strong funding support for vaccines research and innovation in the country,” he stated.
Salako also called on the Federal Government to ensure functionality and sustainability of the Bio-vaccines Nigeria Company.
“There’s need for more government investment to harness the potential clinical trial and vaccine development to provide succour and protect the health of Nigerians and also save lives,” he added.
Earlier, in his address, NCDC Director-General, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the COVID-19 pandemic had turned peoples’ lives upside down.
“It has infected over 190 million people and sadly, we have lost 4.15 million people. In Nigeria, we have had over 170,000 infections and more than 2,000 deaths. It pains me to say that there is a possibility that we are yet to see the worst of this pandemic.
“But, this is part of the reason we are here today. We are not only faced with a pandemic in Nigeria, but multiple concurrent disease outbreaks.
“In the last one month alone, we have been responding to an increasing number of COVID-19 cases, outbreak of cholera in several states, panic associated with the detection of a monkey pox case in the U.S with travel history to Nigeria.
“Every week, we detect cases of yellow fever, Lassa fever, measles and other infectious diseases that are endemic in Nigeria. That is our reality – our tropical climate, population density, poor socio-economic factors leave us at risk of annual, multiple, concurrent disease outbreaks in Nigeria,” he said.
Ihekweazu stressed that the country must be one step ahead of these pathogens.
“We must also think of the other public heath challenges that lie ahead of us. Our population is growing at a rapid pace and this will have an incredible impact on our health system.
“Globally, there is a rise in antimicrobial resistance and this will affect the prevention and management of infectious diseases. We are also faced with increasing risks and prevalence of non-communicable diseases.
“The last one year we spent responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with lessons from leadership and governance to building our laboratory systems and risk communications. It has also given us a wakeup call.
“In the next few days, we will hear from eight exceptional plenary speakers who work at global, regional and country levels on various aspects of global health and health system strengthening,” he added.
The NCDC-organised conference, in collaboration with partners, which aimed to reflect on the response to disease outbreaks, review gaps in epidemic preparedness and response and brainstorm on innovative solutions to strengthen health security, is scheduled to hold between July 26th and 28th, 2021.