There is no doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic devastated almost every aspect of human life globally.
Since its discovery late 2019 in China, the disease quickly spread to almost all countries of the world. Its peak was in early to mid-2020 which led to the total lockdown of the economies of almost all countries of the world.
The disease, however, exposed the weaknesses of healthcare systems of most countries including that of advanced economies.
It is for this reason that international and local organisations, philanthropists and men of goodwill began to find ways of assisting countries that have history of weak health systems and are worst hit by the pandemic.
Nigeria got support from various international agencies including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and many others, as well as friendly countries to the country.
Late last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) supported Nigeria with $1.4 billion, which is equivalent to N500 billion as a stimulus package for COVID-19 intervention.
As the law demands, the federal government appropriated the funds into the revised budget of the 2020 financial year.
The appropriated fund was to channel additional resources to health-related recurrent and capital spending and non-health interventions in order to support critical sectors of the economy.
The health sector received N126 billion for intervention in key critical areas with the aim of building a resilient health system, while non-health sector got N374 billion.
The N126 billion for the health sector was targeted to be used for capital and recurrent expenditures. The sum of N86 billion was allocated for capital projects, while N40 billion for recurrent spending.
Some agencies and departments that got funding for capital expenditure include the Food and Drug services department of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) which got N10 billion for local manufacturing of vaccine, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) got N2 billion for the upgrade of laboratory testing of vaccines, and the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) got N2 billion for Research and Development (R&D).
In its wisdom, the Federal Government earmarked N18 billion for the procurement of molecular laboratory equipment for 21 University Teaching Hospitals and 31 Federal Medical Centres/Specialists Hospitals.
Also, all University Teaching Hospitals and Federal Medical Centres (FMCs) got N7.78 billion for the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The equipping of 10-bedded Intensive Care Units (ICUs) in 36 states plus FCT got N18.4 billion; N.2 billion was earmarked for the equipping of isolation treatment centres in 36 states plus FCT, and hazard allowance for health workers was put at N20 billion.
Under the recurrent expenditure, NAFDAC, NIPRD, National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) got N2 billion each for reagents and equipment for COVID-19 related laboratory services. The FMoH was given N2.5 billion for contingencies.
Some agencies have since gotten 50 per cent of the allocatedfunds and findings showed evidence of work going on in some of the agencies.
Our call is that the fund must be used judiciously and transparently and be accounted for.
Also, the Nigeria’s health sector must strongly feel the impact of the fund in all ramifications. Nigerians deserve a better health system that will stand shoulder to shoulder with other advanced countries of the world.
This, we believe, will reduce to the barest minimum, the high rate of maternal and infant mortality and even bring down the rate at which Nigerians go to other countries for medical treatment with its attendant loss of foreign exchange.
We, therefore, strongly call on all agencies and parastatals that have received part of the funds and have not started work, to, as a matter of urgency, swing into action. No time for delay and Nigerians will not take any excuse from them for not putting the money into proper use.
The Federal Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), must, as a matter of urgency, begin processes of releasing the second batch of the funds to the agencies that have shown high level performance.
The National Assembly, too, must come alive and use its constitutional mandate of oversight and follow up all these agencies and parastatals and ensure that the funds are used for only the purpose they are meant for.