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Fact Check: COVID-19 is NOT airborne

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has dismissed the message spreading on social media that “COVID-19 is airborne, saying the claim is incorrect.

WHO also explained that the  virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. These droplets are too heavy to hang in the air. They quickly fall on floors or surfaces.

According to the organization, “You can be infected by breathing in the virus if you are within 1 meter of a person who has COVID-19, or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.

“To protect yourself, keep at least 1 meter distance from others and disinfect surfaces that are touched frequently. Regularly clean your hands thoroughly and avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose”.

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WHO calls for equitable access to future COVID-19 vaccines in Africa

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The World Health Organization (WHO) in Africa joined immunization experts in urging the international community and countries in Africa to take concrete actions to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, as researchers around the world race to find effective protection against the virus.“It is clear that as the international community comes together to develop safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19, equity must be a central focus of these efforts,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Too often, African countries end up at the back of the queue for new technologies, including vaccines. These life-saving products must be available to everyone, not only those who can afford to pay.”

WHO and partners launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator to speed up the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. It brings together leaders of government, global health organizations civil society groups, businesses and philanthropies to form a plan for an equitable response to the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO is collaborating with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to ensure a fair allocation of vaccines to all countries, aiming to deliver 2 billion doses globally for high-risk populations, including 1 billion for low and middle-income countries.

The African Union has endorsed the need for Africa to develop a framework to actively engage in the development and access to COVID-19 vaccines. Countries can take steps now that will strengthen health systems, improve immunization delivery, and pave the way for the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine. These include: mobilizing financial resources; strengthening local vaccine manufacturing, and regulatory, supply and distribution systems; building workforce skills and knowledge; enhancing outreach services; and listening to community concerns to counter misinformation.

Globally, there are nearly 150 COVID-19 vaccine candidates and currently 19 are in clinical trials. South Africa is the first country on the continent to start a clinical trial with the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg testing a vaccine developed by the Oxford Jenner Institute in the United Kingdom. The South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial is expected to involve 2000 volunteers aged 18–65 years and include some people living with HIV. The vaccine is already undergoing trials in the United Kingdom and Brazil with thousands of participants.

According to the African Academy of Sciences only 2% of clinical trials conducted worldwide occur in Africa. It is important to test the COVID-19 vaccine in countries where it is needed to ensure that it will be effective. With more than 215 000 cases, South Africa accounts for 43% of the continent’s total cases. Clinical trials must be performed according to international and national scientific and ethical standards, which include informed consent for any participant.

“I encourage more countries in the region to join these trials so that the contexts and immune response of populations in Africa are factored in to studies,” said Dr Moeti. “Africa has the scientific expertise to contribute widely to the search for an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Indeed, our researchers have helped develop vaccines which provide protection against communicable diseases such as meningitis, Ebola, yellow fever and a number of other common health threats in the region.”

Earlier, this month WHO Africa’s principle advisory group on immunization policies and programmes – the African Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group (RITAG) – also noted the need to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 and other vaccines in the region.

“As the world focuses on finding a vaccine for COVID-19, we must ensure people do not forget that dozens of lifesaving vaccines already exist. These vaccines should reach children everywhere in Africa – no one can be left behind,” said Professor Helen Rees, Chair of the RITAG.

Initial analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on immunization in the African Region suggests that millions of African children are likely to be negatively impacted, as routine immunization services and vaccination campaigns for polio, cholera, measles, yellow fever, meningitis and human papilloma virus have been disrupted.

Despite these challenges, RITAG members also noted significant milestones and markers of progress. For example, there have been tremendous gains in the fight against wild poliovirus, and the African Region is expected to be officially certified free of wild poliovirus in August 2020. The Democratic Republic of the Congo also announced the end of its 10th Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC, which was the worst in its history. An effective vaccine was a key tool in the response.

Dr Moeti spoke about COVID-19 vaccine development in Africa during a virtual press conference today organized by APO Group. She was joined by Professor Shabir Madhi, University of Witwatersrand, Principal Investigator of Oxford Covid-19 Vaccine Trial in South Africa; and Professor Pontiano Kaleebu, Director of the MCR/UVRI and LSHTM Ugandan Research Unit. The briefing was streamed on more than 300 African news sites as well as the WHO Regional Office for Africa’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

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CACOVID donates 150-bed isolation center, multi-million naira medical equipment to Lagos govt.

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The Private Sector led Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) has donated a 150-bed fully equipped  isolation facility with medical equipment worth millions of naira to the Lagos State Government, to provide support in the fight against the virus within the state.

Speaking at the commissioning of the Yaba Isolation center, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu noted that the isolation center would further strengthen the state’s healthcare system in dealing with the challenges of the Pandemic as the state currently leads the toll of Nigeria’s COVID-19 infections with over 10,000 confirmed cases.

The Governor commended the Coalition’s efforts in mobilising resources quickly to support emergency responses and pledged that the donated facility would be used to provide adequate treatment to those who are infected and help to stop the overall spread of the virus within the state.

He urged all citizens to continue to take responsibility and follow directives of the government and health professionals towards reducing the spread of the virus and saving lives across communities.

“We need to take responsibility because the virus knows no race, ethnicity, religion or boundary. We need to take responsibility for our loved ones by wearing face mask, maintaining social distancing and hand hygiene to reduce morbidity and mortality,” the governor said.

He further disclosed plans by the State Government to build an International Infectious Disease Research Centre, Doctors’ quarters and permanent isolation wards at the Mainland Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba as part of Lagos COVID19 response and other infectious disease preparedness in post COVID19 era.

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In his remarks, the State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, said that the center was the sixth facility in the state dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 patients, and is coming onboard at a time when the state is ramping up its testing capacity.

He further said the 150-bed facility donated by CACOVID would be used for the management of moderate to severe COVID-19 patients and would assist in admitting and providing care for more patients.

Also speaking at the event, the Central Bank Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, said that collaboration between the private sector and government was vital to prevent the spread of the virus and save the lives of the citizens,

He further said that the center would enhance the state’s healthcare system and the management of COVID-19 within the state.

According to him, N29 billion has been donated so far by members of the coalition towards supporting government’s efforts in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and that the funds have been used to build and equip isolation centers across the country.

Mr. Emefiele said that 32 isolation centers have been built as of today, with a target to reach 39 isolation centers by the end of July.

The CBN governor added that CACOVID had also provided in-kind food palliatives to members of the public across the country to ameliorate the effects of the virus on their welfare.

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He commended members of the coalition for their generous and selfless donations which have helped in achieving its common goal of helping the nation fight the spread of COVID-19. He also lauded the healthcare workers and the state government for their efforts in implementing strategies, caring for the infected patients and reducing the spread of the virus in the state.

Also, the Chief Executive, Dangote Industries Limited, Aliko Dangote said the Lagos Isolation Center was a model for what the coalition would build in other states.

Dangote, represented by Ms Zouera Youssoufou, Managing Director Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF), said: “It is with great pride that we hand over the Yaba Isolation Center to Lagos State. More supports will come to the state from the coalition and we appreciate everyone’s contribution towards our goal.”

In his remarks, the Managing Director, Access Bank Plc, Mr. Herbert Wigwe said that Lagos was more vulnerable to spread of the virus due to its large population. He commended the state government for its efforts to reduce the spread and effect of the virus on the citizens. He also appreciated the state government’s support to CACOVID.

The Yaba Isolation center comes with a fully equipped medical laboratory and high dependency unit; personal protective equipment and other critical medical consumables; water and sewage treatment plants; 11kv power generator amongst other essentials. This is in addition to 34,000 test kits, sample collection swabs and infrared thermometers recently delivered to the NCDC.

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Till date, CACOVID has committed billions of naira to build 38 fully equipped isolation centers across Nigeria with over 5,000 beds and critical medical equipment needed to fight the pandemic, exemplifying sustainable value addition from a partnership that truly works.

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Minister seeks support for national health sector COVID-19 response plan

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The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire has sought for the support of the Health Partners Coordinating Committee (HPCC) for the newly developed Integrated National Health Sector Covid-19 Response Plan derived from Pillar 4, Priority Area 1 of the NSHDP 11.

The plan, as learnt is to ensure defined responsibilities and harmonization of efforts across the Federal and States and non-interruption of non COVID-19 routine health services. This came to fore when the Minister held a virtual meeting with the Health Partners Coordinating Committee (HPCC) last Friday.

Dr. Ehanire sought for the HPCC to recall that Nigeria had earlier demonstrated commitment towards improving its health sector outputs and outcomes and achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) with the signing of the National Health Act, 2014 that gave birth to the Basic Health care Provision Fund (BHCPF).

He said, “The effective implementation of the BHCPF which requires partnership and robust collaboration with all the relevant stakeholders particularly the development partners is key to the realization of set goals towards the UHC”.

The Minister emphasized that maintaining strong collaboration with donors/partners and private sector will ensure alignment and achieving a balanced allocation of funds for financial sustainability.

The Minister  also explained that the BHCPF launched in January 2019 by President Buhari was suspended afterwards following observations by the Health Committees of the National Assembly (NASS) in a document entitled, ‘Design and Implementation of the BHCPF- A Review,’ in November, 2019 on grounds that some portions of the earlier developed 2018 operational manual for the implementation of the fund were not in compliance with the National Health Act and as such it’s further implementation would amount to deliberate flouting of the law.

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The followings, Dr. Osagie said were the issues raised by the National Assembly on the BHCPF:

1. Lack of clarity on “take off” of the implementation of BHCPF

•    States were being asked to deposit a uniform counterpart funding of N100 million not known to law;

2. Poor system thinking and tendency not to go outside “the box”

•    Section 11 of NH Act expected to be implemented as part of the whole whereas it will be great to implement it with sections 12 & 13;

•    Putting money into PHCs without established minimum standards of quality is not what it intends;

•    Provisional accreditation given to PHCs per ward is dangerous in a country where almost all temporary measures become permanent;

•    Allocating 2.5% of BHCPF to DHS is not the best use of funds;

•    Sub-national health experts not involved in the evolution of the guideline as much as the law expects and community needs to be more involved and engaged;

3. Concern of partners for their investments and theory of change to be safeguarded
•    Partners concerned that money in BHCPF is efficiently utilized. Everything should be done to do that but not at the expense of implementing the law;

•    Therefore, an accountability mechanism must be put in place to ensure various gateways are accountable;

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•    Since this is a system strengthening intervention that should continue ad infinitum, funds from donors should not constitute a distortion to the BHCPF.

4. Preference for unwieldy and complex bureaucracy
•    Creating a National Steering Committee and Secretariat are perceived as creating extra bureaucracy which may make the implementation of BHCPF quite unwieldy.

5. Desire to indulge/exclude governments at sub-national  levels in spite of the law

•    Eligibility required by law for any State to spend money from the pot is development of costed plan and payment of not less than 25% of the cost of the project;

•    It is not clear what criteria were used to determine the sums allocated to the States as well as why percentages are paid.

6. Poor preparedness of the States for this very important health reforms.

Consequently a committee set up by the Office of the Honourable Minister of Health to review the 2018 Operational Manual and correct the errors.  It submitted a guideline entitled, ‘Guidelines for the Administration Disbursement and Monitoring of the BHCPF’ which was subsequently harmonized with the 2018 Operations Manual with the 2020 Draft Guideline in existence, with respect to issues raised by the NASS Health Committees.

In a related note, on the signing of the Nigeria Country Compact Agreement with Development Partners scheduled for the HPCC meeting, the Minister said, “The compact is not in any way legally binding, but just a mutual understanding that we will work together to implement our National Strategy towards achieving UHC and attainment of SDG3.”

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Speaking further, he said, “To track implementation of the National Health Plan, the M&E plan of the NSHDP 11 has provided for a Joint Annual Review (JAR). On this, the NSHDP 11 JAR governance structure was inaugurated during the previous HPCC meeting’.

The Minister expressed appreciation to all for their continued support to the health sector while expressing his desire for more partnership and collaboration in concerted efforts to reposition the sector to be more efficient.

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