How Poor Funding For Research, Low Technology Contributed To Lack Of Local Covid-19 Vaccine Production

This story is a result of Orodata’s Micro-Grant support to journalists to produce in-depth investigative and data-driven stories on thematic areas like Development, Healthcare, Covid-19, and Covid-19 Vaccine.

“Nigeria Institute of Medical Research is surviving on international grant. There is no budgetary provision for NIMR. Majority of the things they are using are programmed and we are surviving on grant.”

Like Professor Hassan, researchers who spoke with this reporter argued that poor funding for research, lack of enabling environment, low technology and inadequate facilities would make it difficult to produce vaccines for viruses like COVID-19.

Federal vaccine production laboratory still under renovation since 1991 till date

The Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory, Yaba, is the first vaccine institute in Nigeria. It started local production of vaccines in 1940.  The Institute was active between 1940 and 1991, producing large quantities of vaccines against smallpox, rabies, yellow fever for Nigerians and other Africa countries.

In 1991, the vaccine centre was shut down by the federal government for renovation and facilities upgrade. At a press conference in April 2017, a former minister of health, Isaac Adewole, announced that the federal government had set up a joint venture company with May and Baker, a pharmaceutical company in Nigeria, to commence local production of vaccines at the Yaba facility.

Adewole claimed that the decision was made during a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, adding that the joint venture will run between 2017 to 2021. 

But when I visited the federal vaccine production laboratory located at no 1, University Road, Yaba, Lagos on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, the vaccine centre was still under lock. Dilapidated buildings, rotten gates, filthy environment, all these seem to have been ignored by the government since 1991 till date.

N5.84 billion for vaccine research and development

In the 2021 budget, the Federal Government allocated N5.84 billion to three key agencies saddled with pharmaceutical research and vaccine development in Nigeria.

The agencies are the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba; National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRID) and the National Arbovirus and Vectors Research Centre (NAVRC), Enugu.

NIMR Yaba got the highest of the three with N4.23 billion budgeted for the year. NIPRID’s allocation for the year stands at N1.28 billion. NAVRC has the lowest provision of N329.48 million. 

Compared to the Nigeria government, many developed countries allocated huge amounts to research and develop COVID-19 vaccines. 

The U.S Government allocated more than $9 billion to develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines. Australia launched A$23.9 for COVID-19 vaccination information campaign. Germany allocated €750 million ($812 million) to develop and distribute vaccines. France allocated €50 million for research on COVID-19 vaccines. Canada invested $2.2 billion to rebuild Canada’s bio-manufacturing capacity to spur vaccine development. 

Some institutes have reached animal experiment stage

Research conducted by the reporter showed that a number of institutions are engaged in laboratory experiments in COVID-19 vaccine development and some have reached the animal experiment stage including Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR). The Redeemers University probably has a candidate vaccine for phase 1 trial and Uthmanu Danfodiyo University is looking at DNA vaccine development. However, the three institutions are working with the National Veterinary Research Institute for vaccine development in Nigeria.

OOU anti-COVID-19 herbal syrup stuck in NAFDAC office

A group of researchers at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye in partnership with Anjola Herbal Company Limited produced COVID-19 herbal syrup for the prevention of coronavirus.  The University Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ganiyu Olatunde disclosed this at a press briefing held on June 2, 2020, adding that the herbal syrup was submitted to the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control for approval.

When contacted, the University Public Relations Officer,  Niyi Oduwole said, the management is still awaiting NAFDAC official response. 

Babcock still expecting COVID-19 vaccine research fund from federal government

After COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, Researchers at Babcock University swung into action and decided to find a cure to the virus.

When contacted, Dean, School of Science and Technology, Babcock University, Professor Cyril Nwangburuka told this reporter that the government is yet to offer them a grant to research for the covid-19 vaccine. 

“We are still awaiting the response of the Nigerian Institute of Animal Science on the proposal submitted for funding. As soon as we get a favourable response we would be able to execute”. 

132 private and public laboratories with capacity to offer COVID-19 test

At the inception of the COVID-19 in Nigeria, testing became a national issue because Nigeria had very few molecular laboratories to conduct the COVID-19 test. On March 22, 2020, the NCDC, through its Twitter handle, announced that it has 5 laboratories that can test. After the announcement, 18 more laboratories were built and commissioned across the country. This drove the number up to 132 private and public laboratories with the capacity to offer COVID-19 tests as of March 2021. In 2021, the NCDC reported that all Nigerian states now have at least one public health laboratory with molecular testing capacity.  

‘Local vaccine can reduce death rate’

The Director-General/CEO, NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Salako told this reporter that availability of local vaccines can lead to reduction of deaths caused by COVID-19. 

He urged the government to dedicate funds for health research, noting that it will address the country’s health challenges.

“Apart from economic prosperity for the nation, accessibility and availability of vaccines in a timely manner will be guaranteed leading to reduction in morbidity and mortality due to the disease in question. Our health indices will also improve because we are able to provide solutions to our myriads of health issues. Dedicated funds for health research will address the major challenges”.

‘We have the capacity to produce local COVID-19 vaccine but no commitment from government’

Prof. Ibrahim Oreagba, a renowned professor of Pharmacology, College of Medicine Idi-Araba, Lagos and the National President of Islamic Medical Association of Nigeria said, researchers in Nigeria have the capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccine but the government was not encouraging them.

“At this stage that we are, we have not gone so far, though we have great potential, we have the capacity. If we had started earlier we would have had our own covid-19 vaccine. We have some very good research laboratories. just that we have not had enough government commitment to research.

“It is always good that we have our own vaccine for our own people so that we can test them and try them in our own population.

“We have a lot of ideas, we have proposals, protocols, research on covid-19, we even have some herbal medicine in place and some other research works that require funding. We have people that are capable, we have very good researchers but funding and research equipment remain a problem for us.

No govt patronage for local products’

Mr Paul Oni, a trado-medical doctor claimed that the government failed to pay attention to local products. 

Mr Oni is the chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors, Ogun State Chapter and a member of the National Association of Traditional Medicine Practitioners of Nigeria (NANTMP).

He said “As a government, Nigeria has done nothing to develop the local vaccine. A lot of people have solutions to covid-19 including myself. 

“Government is not interested in local products. I discovered that we are so blessed in Nigeria with herbs in the bush, but there is no government patronage”.

Wriiten by Abdulqudus Olawale

This Investigative Report is supported by Orodata Science.

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