Fixing health sector important than buying COVID-19 vaccines, Bill Gates tells FG

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Eniola Akinkuotu, Abuja

American philanthropist and Microsoft Co-founder, Bill Gates, says Nigeria does not need to spend too much on acquiring COVID-19 vaccines but should rather focus more on revitalising the weak and underfunded health sector especially the primary health care centres.

Gates said this while responding to a question posed by The PUNCH during an interview with select African journalists on Tuesday.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, had in December informed the Senate that Nigeria would require over N400bn to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population at $8 per vaccine.

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When asked if it was appropriate for Nigeria to spend such a huge sum of money on vaccine acquisition in the midst of other issues plaguing the health sector, Gates said, “There is no doubt that the impact of putting money into the health system particularly the primary healthcare system will be very high in terms of saving children’s lives and you are absolutely right.

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“Nigeria should not divert the very limited money that it has for health into trying to pay a high price for COVID vaccines.”

Gates said Nigeria could also rely largely on groups like GAVI the Vaccine Alliance for COVID-19 vaccines.

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He argued that investing in the primary health system would improve coverage and build Nigeria’s response in tackling other diseases.

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The philanthropist added, “The key thing would be, Nigeria is still GAVI eligible and so for a lot of those vaccines, they will come through this GAVI facility that we raise money for and health in Nigeria is generally underfunded.

“If you look at the primary health centres in the North, in particular if you look at the vaccine coverage rates, there are literally millions of lives that can be saved if the primary health system operates at a level that some other countries at the same wealth of Nigeria if the system was this good.

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“So, I am an advocate for the government to have more resources and prioritise health. Obviously, I am not a voter in Nigeria so Nigeria can decide that independently. My advice is (that) the primary health care system is what is super important.”

When asked if his foundation would be helping Nigeria in developing COVID-19 vaccines, Gates said such a move would involve a five-year plan.

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