Beti Baiye & Dara Ajala-Damisa (Lead Writers)
All around us, we see and hear of how individuals and businesses are pitching in to help in little, but important ways to limit the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Nigeria. These include organisations that took proactive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 before the country began to witness an increase in confirmed cases and lockdown directives were instituted. Mrs Gbamila bought a large bucket with an attached faucet, filled it with water and bleach and placed it, with a tablet of soap, at the entrance to her church’s building, all before restrictions on religious gathering were put in place. Decked in her Sunday best, she stood at the church entrance, cheerfully asking everyone to wash their hands before they entered. The estate association that bought thermometers and set up hand wash stations at the gate for all to wash their hands before entering the estate.
This is a time when all citizens must all play their part, and in Nigeria, the private sector has stepped up to partner with the government to stem the pandemic. Identifying gaps in the healthcare system and anticipating needs, these businesses have offered everything from newly built isolation centres and hospital kits, to funds, solar power for healthcentres, and access to a professional courier system that can move items to every part the country.
Facilities and Equipment
The inadequate number of isolation centres across the country was a topic of conversation among Nigerians as reports at the onset of the outbreak revealed that there were only four isolation centres in the whole country. To solve this problem, Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), Africa Finance Corporation, and Mandilas Group Limited partnered with the Lagos State government to build a 100-bed Intensive Care Centre at Onikan for those infected by COVID-19 in Lagos. The 100-bed space isolation centre, located in Mobolaji Johnson Arena, has an ICU, regular bed spaces, a pharmacy department, and doctor’s quarters. It was built and completed in one week.
Another cause of growing concern among Nigerians was the uncertain number of ventilators and other critical medical equipment necessary to fight the outbreak. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), while most people with COVID-19 develop mild or complicated illnesses, about 14% become seriously ill and can develop breathing difficulties. To alleviate this, a ventilator is used to push air, with increased levels of oxygen, into the lungs.
As their own contribution to ease this challenge, LifeBank Nigeria, a healthcare technology and logistics company, has built a national register for critical medical equipment — ventilators, respirators and ICU beds. Owners of working or broken respiratory, ventilator or ICU Beds are encouraged to list their equipment at quip.lifebank.ng.
From outside Nigeria, Chinese business magnate, Jack Ma, donated 1.1 million testing kits, six million masks, and 60,000 protective suits and face shields to Africa to help the continent in its fight against the new coronavirus. The supplies were shared among countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Nigeria. On Wednesday, March 25, according to data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Nigeria received 100,000 face masks; 9,999 overall gowns; 20,000 reagents for testing; and 913 face shields.
Funding and Innovation
The Private Sector Coalition Against Coronavirus (CACOVID), an initiative organised by Access Bank Group and Aliko Dangote Foundation, with support from Zenith Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, MTN, and ITB, to name a few, is a private sector coalition created to support the government’s efforts to fight COVID-19. It does this by raising public awareness, supporting healthcare professionals, institutions and governments, and by mobilizing private sector leadership and resources. The coalition is currently working with Lagos State Government to erect fully equipped medical tents that will serve as training, testing, isolation and treatment centres. The total contribution to the CACOVID fund stood at N19.4 billion as at April 3, 2020.
Other donors to this fund include BUA Sugar Refinery, UBA, First Bank, Pacific Holding Ltd, Union Bank Plc, Sterling Bank Plc, Standard Chartered Bank, Stanbic IBTC, Citi Bank Nigeria Ltd, FCMB, Fidelity Bank, Ecobank Nigeria, African Steel Mills, Multichoice Nigeria Limited. Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF) has also pledged N200million and Atiku Abubakar has pledged N50 million.
UBA Foundation is another private organisation that is actively contributing to the fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic. In a tweet from their official account, @UBAGroup, the Foundation pledged to provide N5 billion to COVID-19 Relief Support Across Africa to drive a comprehensive pan-African response to the fight against the pandemic. The donation will provide significant and much needed support to Nigeria and 19 other African countries, by supplying relief materials, critical care facilities, and financial support to Governments. The funds will be allocated to Lagos, Abuja, the remaining 35 states in Nigeria, other African countries where UBA is present and to medical centres to provide equipment and other medical supplies.
To encourage social distancing, the Foundation is also providing a free telemedicine platform that is physician-led, to provide direct access to medical advice to citizens, in compliance with social distancing requirements.
MTN Nigeria is giving out 100mb daily to its subscribers when they visit a select number of websites that provide current and authentic information on the spread of the virus in Nigeria as a bid to encourage users to source for authentic information from trusted sites. Some of these sites include, health.gov.ng, ncdc.gov.ng, covid19.ncdc.gov.ng, who.int and africa.cdc.org.
Globally, organisations, communities and individuals have developed different interventions that may help reduce spread of the virus or the impact of crackdown policies. To bring all these interventions together in one place, Public Health Consulting firm, EpiAFRIC has developed a COVID-19 Global Responses and Rapid Innovation Database to collate every initiative being created to fight the coronavirus pandemic and other unintended consequences of measures taken to stop its spread. If you know or find an initiative that should be on the list, please share using this link.
Nigerian Auto Manufacturer, Innoson, also joined the list of automobile companies that expressed an intention to repurpose their manufacturing plants to produce medical equipment across the world. Innoson Motors has expressed their readiness to convert its assembly lines to start producing ventilators and other equipment. God is Good Motors have announced their readiness to donate buses to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to help with logistics and other operations. They are also partnering with Foodjaar Limited to cook and share 50,000 meals to the needy at their terminals in Lagos.
Health worker Support
Abubakar Suleiman, Sterling Bank Chief Executive Officer, in a tweet on Thursday, April 2, announced the bank’s decision to raise a N1billion Health Worker’s Intervention Fund. According to the announcement, the funds raised will be used to support all frontline health workers — doctors, nurses, public health officials and ambulance drivers — directly involved in containing the Covid-19 pandemic. Sterling Bank has seeded the fund with N25million. Donations can be made at giving.ng/covid19.
Vitafoam Nigeria is donating 100 units of Mattresses and Pillows to isolation centres in Lagos State. Jumia Group has offered African governments use of its delivery network for distribution of supplies to healthcare facilities and workers. First Bank Nigeria has announced that the bank in partnership with the government and other stakeholders will be initiating an e-learning platform for students. Femi Otedola, a Nigerian businessman and philanthropist, pledged to contribute N1b towards the eradication of COVID-19 in Nigeria and in a tweet on Saturday, April 4, he confirmed payment of the pledge and also shared a list of contributors to the CACOVID fund.
Religious organisations are not left out as the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye has donated 8,000 hand sanitizers, 8,000 surgical face masks and 200,000 gloves to the Lagos State Government to support its efforts in containing the pandemic. Likewise, the Living Faith Church Worldwide, also, donated 2 state of the art ambulances, test kits and personal protective devices (PPE) to the Lagos and Ogun State governments.
In a special broadcast on April 11, 2020 Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano announced the index COVID-19 case in the state. According to the governor, the state has two Preventive Care Centres that are up and running and 2 Surge Centres, these are being equipped by Fidelity and Access Bank in the state and are almost ready. He expressed his gratitude to private sector organisations and individuals like UBA PLC, Professor Charles Soludo, CHISCO Transport Company and others whose donations have helped boost efforts at state level. These donations have equipped the state with the necessary hospital equipment, drug supplies and cash to boost the state’s preparedness efforts.
Tackling the pandemic is a coordinated effort and the private sector across all states should partner with the government and where necessary, step up to lead the state response in containing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The road ahead
The response from the private sector has been overwhelming as big businesses have stepped up and taken responsibility, sometimes partnering with other organisations to achieve a common goal. As more partnerships spring up and private sector support builds, the hope is that, as seen in other countries, the private sector in Nigeria will use their capacity and expertise to slow down the spread of COVID-19 and ensure a swift and effective response to the pandemic.
We must not forget that the fight doesn’t end when this pandemic is brought under control. Public health experts have forecast that the world is in constant threat of emerging and re-emerging infectious disease outbreaks. When this fight ends, and we stretch hands across continents, countries and states, congratulating ourselves for a job well done, let us also remember that preparedness is an often-overlooked aspect that will determine our response when, not if, the next pandemic occurs.
While the response and support to fight COVID-19 has been encouraging, the private sector must understand that epidemic preparedness is not a one-off issue. COVID-19 has clearly shown that epidemics affect everybody, so the private sector must find innovative ways to continue contributing towards funding for epidemic preparedness before epidemics happen. The private sector should be funding research and development, as well as increasing the domestic production of medical supplies. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in the South should serve as a model for a public-private research institution.
The opening and operation of Bio-Safety-3 labs in states is also critical and should not be led by the government only. This requires foresight and planning, but the result will be better health security for Nigeria, and in turn, for business. Comparisons have been made been the testing capacity of other countries in Africa, like South Africa and Nigeria. However, what is widely overlooked is that a large proportion of tests done in South Africa were done in private laboratories. This is more reason why the Private Sector Coalition Against Coronavirus (CACOVID) needs to transition into a longer-term structured collaboration against epidemics in Nigeria.
We must remember the NCDC is simultaneously dealing with multiple, not just one disease outbreak, Lassa fever and COVID-19. This is the time to plan better for the future. Preparedness means being ready to tackle a disease outbreak before one looms on the horizon.
Do you know of any private businesses doing something to help win the fight against COVID-19? Please share in the comment section, and on our social media platforms; @nighealthwatch on Twitter, and Nigeria Health Watch on Facebook.