Microsoft founder and philanthropist, Bill Gates has warned Nigeria against spending more than $1billion dollars to purchase COVID-19 vaccines but should invest the money into primary health care system which is able to save millions of children.
The co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ( BMGF) said during a press conference to release the annual letter for the year 2021. The annual letter tagged: “ The year Global Health Went Local,” reflected on the impact of the coronavirus on global health and the collaboration and scientific innovation fueling one of the largest public health efforts in history.
“There is no doubt that putting money into the health system particularly the primary health care system, will be very high in terms of saving children’s lives,” Bill Gates said. Since the start of the coronavirus and the attendant toll on Nigeria’s fragile public health, at least 22,000 people have died of HIV/AIDS and routine immunization of children for childhood diseases have also dwindled exposing millions of children.
However, Nigeria may be spending at least N540 billion (about $1.4billion ) to acquire the coronavirus vaccines for about 120 million people out of a population of about 203 million.
Gates said: “ Nigeria should not divert the very, very limited money that it has for health into trying to pay a high price for COVID-19 vaccines. The key is that Nigeria is still eligible, and so, for a lot of those vaccines, they will come through the GAVI facility that we’ve raised money for.
“Health in general in Nigeria is very underfunded. If you look at the primary health care centres in the north and, in particular, if you look at the vaccine coverage rates, there are millions of lives that can be saved if the primary health care system operated at a level that some other countries at the same wealth of Nigeria if its system was as good.”
The billionaire philanthropist said rather the country should prioritize investment in the primary health system. “ I’m an advocate for the government to have more resources and prioritise health. Obviously I’m not a voter in Nigeria, so Nigeria can decide that independently.
“So my advice is that the primary health care system is what’s super important and that with those finite resources, you have to prioritise expenditure. And in that case, waiting for the GAVI vaccines would be the best thing and to put into other areas so that vaccine coverage rates, that are as low as 20% in some areas, get up to 80/90% to save children’s lives,” Gates said.
In the annual letter, Gates praised the efforts of Nigeria’s private sector and African governments for utilizing the lessons learnt during the Polio and Ebola epidemic to quickly address the COVID pandemic, he said the world together has achieved some significant victories against the virus.
“COVID-19 has cost lives, sickened millions, and thrust the global economy into a devastating recession. Although we have a long recovery in front of us, the world has achieved some significant victories against the virus in the form of new tests, treatments, and vaccines. We believe these new tools will soon begin bending the curve in a big way.”
Global loss to COVID tops $28trillion
Bill and Melinda argue that in response to the pandemic, donors from around the world contributed resources, competitors shared research findings, and years of global investment helped unlock a new era in vaccine development, delivering safe, effective vaccines in record time. They caution, however, that the pandemic has also exacerbated pre-existing health disparities, particularly for essential workers, communities of color, people experiencing poverty, and women. They express concern that the pandemic could also perpetuate another type of injustice: immunity inequality. They call for an inclusive response that addresses the uneven social and economic impacts of the virus.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, we have urged wealthy nations to remember that COVID-19 anywhere is a threat everywhere. Until vaccines reach everyone, new clusters of disease will keep popping up. The cycle of inequality will continue. Everything depends on whether the world comes together to ensure that the lifesaving science developed in 2020 saves as many lives as possible in 2021.”
Bill and Melinda also stress that it’s not too early to think about the next pandemic. Although stopping it will require tens of billions of dollars per year, they note that COVID-19 has cost the world an estimated $28 trillion. They urge continued investment in testing, treatments, and vaccines, and discuss the importance of a global alert system that can detect disease outbreaks as soon as they occur.
“The world now understands how seriously we should take pandemics. We’re already seeing new pandemic preparedness strategies emerge and I expect to see more in the months and years to come. The world wasn’t ready for the COVID-19 pandemic. I think next time will be different,” Bill said.