NSSF to support access to COVID-19 vaccines, strengthen healthcare system, reskill Nigerian youths, says Chinye-Nwoko

Dr. Fejiro Chinye-Nwoko is the General Manager, Nigeria Solidarity Support Fund (NSSF). The fund is a platform for resource mobilisation to support access to COVID-19 vaccines for vulnerable and poor Nigerians. ENIOLA DANIEL reports efforts NSSF has made and challenges.

Nigeria depends mostly on donation of vaccines. Despite its capacity and resources, the country still finds it difficult to produce vaccines locally. Is there any effort by your organisation to correct this? When would Nigeria produce vaccines for its population and also export?
Even before COVID-19 pandemic, Africa as a continent had been having conversations on producing drugs. Lots of conversations, especially with investors on how to produce and drastically reduce the amount of money spent on drug importation, had been ongoing. You will be surprised at how much we spend importing drugs in a year. If we begin to manufacture, then we can even export and make some foreign exchange because a lot of countries make a lot of money from the export of drugs, India for example. So, this conversation has been ongoing but I know that COVID-19 has triggered it in a faster dimension. During the outbreak, Western countries first concentrated on making vaccines and stocking for themselves before sharing to other parts of the world.

NSSF is not directly involved in manufacturing of vaccines. We have other sister organisations such as Africa Business Coalition for Health (ABC Health), which is in the forefront of championing the manufacturing of drugs. This will take time. It might not happen in two years. These are not short-term goals. So, we are beginning to see that there is a need.

COVID-19 vaccinations have shown us how we are the last on the list when we are not either contributing heavily to the production in the West or we do not have our own production. And that has thrown up that gap. So, very soon, I’m sure that things will begin to unfold.

On vaccine inequity, even in Nigeria, when they come in, how are they distributed? That is where NSSF is supporting. We know that some states are less buoyant than others. So, those less buoyant states will not have the capacity and the resources to quickly deploy these vaccines and run vaccination campaigns at the ward level and local council level to make sure people get the vaccines. It may just be the state capital that has these vaccines. So, we are coming in there to ensure that there is equity internally.

How much do you intend to raise to vaccinate at least one million Nigerians and meet your target? How do you intend to deploy resources?
We are actually targeting N2 billion yearly, it will be able to help us do this work. We have three main objectives in NSSF – to support vulnerable Nigerians, strengthen the healthcare system and reskill Nigerian youths. If we look at only strengthening the healthcare system, N2 billion will finish in one month. So, we are hoping that other organisations and well-meaning Nigerians will play their part and make a mark with the N2 billion.

How much have you raised, so far?
We did a fundraising in October for vaccination and we got about N110 million for vaccination alone. We have raised N1.15 billion so far, but half of the N110 million raised in October were pledges and half have been redeemed. We are supporting Nigerians that cannot afford healthcare. And with health insurance, we are sure Nigerians will be able to access healthcare for ‘free’. The health insurance coverage in Nigeria is less than four per cent and we know that out-of-pocket health expenditure is one of the reasons a lot of people go down to impoverishment. Just one illness is enough to drain a life saving. So, we want to help Nigerians get a basic level of care. We have a strategy on what we want to do, but what we are doing now is supporting the vaccination because if we don’t end the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t strengthen the healthcare system. The system will get overwhelmed again if we go into Christmas with a low vaccinated rate. Again, we are short of oxygen and health workers in Nigeria are migrating every day.

What NSSF is doing is not to procure vaccination, but help gain access to it; to let the vaccine get to vulnerable people, areas where there are no health centres. We are helping to reduce misinformation and disinformation about the vaccination, and we are working with other private organisations.

With the three cardinal projects you stated, do you think N2 billion will be enough?
Nigerians are our donors; we don’t have any international body supporting us. These are Nigerians supporting Nigeria’s project. There are Nigerians that have excess to give for a good cause but they only give when they are sure that the money will go to the right channel.

How do you monitor disbursement?
We have put a system in place, a credible accountability system. The Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) is housing the funds and it distributes to recipients. So, it doesn’t come from me. The second way of ensuring accountability is that we have Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), which is our grant administrator. Their responsibility is to do due diligence on the grant we want to give out.

Monitoring and evaluation is another. KPMG audits the money given out and ensures it is used for what it was collected for. We also have Deloitte as internal auditor.

How do you manage personnel?
We have a cap on how much we can spend on our personnel based on global standards. We cannot spend more than two per cent on our personnel and that is why we are such a lean team. They complain every day that the work is too much for them. Our auditors are there to make sure we are not living off the donation.