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Nigeria responds to new Ebola outbreak

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The Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 (PTF) is enhancing surveillance at the nation’s points of entry to respond to recent outbreak of Ebola in neighbouring countries, especially, Guinea and the Congo DCR.

Nigeria’s Port Health Services have been put on alert on land, while sea and Air borders as well as major hospitals have also been put on notice for a keen index and to check patient travel history, especially at Outpatient departments, and report concerns to infectious disease focal persons and state epidemiologists.

This came as the Federal Government, yesterday, assured that the country would soon get safe and efficacious COVID-19 doses as promised, despite recent concerns over efficacy of the vaccines following emergence of new variants.

It was gathered that the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) had allocated 1.4 million free doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to Nigeria, of which 500,000 doses are expected by the end of this month, courtesy of MTN’s donation of 7 million doses to Africa. The balance of 900,000 doses for Nigeria is expected by the end of March 2021.

Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who disclosed this at the PTF briefing yesterday in Abuja, noted that Nigeria was willing to send experienced volunteers from its Centres of Excellence on Viral haemmorrhagic fever, to support the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) measures to contain Ebola resurgence in West African sub region. He stressed that it would be important to protect the sub region from the catastrophic burden of dealing with two severe diseases of public health concern.

Ehanire, who further stated that ​Nigeria would work with the West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO) and WHO on strategies to bring the Ebola outbreak under control and provide regular updates on preparedness, containment and response measures in due course, stressed that stricter infection prevention and control measures, including Personal Protective measures, must be taken immediately there is reason to suspect a case in Nigeria.

He noted that ​the Federal Ministry of Health constantly monitored diseases of public health concern around the world and was observing the Ebola disease outbreak in Guinea Conakry with concern.

The minister, in view of these developments, renewed the call on Nigerians to limit foreign trips only to very essential ones, and to altogether avoid high burden countries and those with particularly deadly disease outbreaks for now, so as not to pick up such diseases or become a vehicle for their importation.

He said that the Federal Government had continued to work on rollout of COVID-19 vaccines when they arrive, warning that all COVID vaccines carry a certain amount of risk and any vaccines not approved by the Federal Ministry of Health through its agencies would not be used in Nigeria.

The minister noted that government would not be responsible for the safety or efficacy of vaccines given outside the framework of government and that all Nigeria’s needs had been carefully calculated by NPHCDA, even as it would be possible to accommodate all interests in the framework.

He observed that government had inaugurated the Vaccine Coordination Committee, an Interministerial, multi-sectoral committee to address diverse issues peculiar to COVID-19 vaccine acquisition by Nigeria.

Ehanire explained that their function was to advise on coordinating access to acquisition and distribution of vaccines when available, and on immunisation strategy.

He said, “Other sources of vaccines are under negotiation. The National Agency For Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has received dossiers for Sputnik V vaccine of Russia, Covishield or Astra Zeneca manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India, Covaxin by Bharat vaccines of India and the Sinopharm Vaccine of China, for evaluation and validation for use in Nigeria. Some of them are nearly ready for results.

“I received a message from His Excellency, the High Commissioner of India, giving 100,000 AstraZeneca or covishield vaccine doses, also by the Serum Institute of India, as a gift of the Government of India to Nigeria. The people of Nigeria appreciate these gestures of goodwill and partnership. With regard to the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), Nigeria this morning completed her account opening, signed by two officials each, of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance, Budget & National Planning, at Afrexim Bank as a requirement for access to vaccines on that platform, which will give Nigeria access to a much larger portfolio and variety of vaccines. Among the vaccines are the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine and as much of the Pfizer mRNA vaccines as we can manage. The COVID-19 Vaccine Coordinatiing Committee and NPHCDA’s strategy for vaccine delivery will advise the mix of vaccines that Nigeria will acquire”

Also speaking, Chairman of PTF and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Mr. Boss Mustapha stated that Nigeria would keep a keen eye on the Ebola outbreak to avoid having to combat two deadly diseases at the same time.

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