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Nigeria, World Bank To Raise $30M For Vaccine Plant — Osinbajo

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The Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo said the federal government and the World Bank are working together to raise $30 million to fund a vaccine factory in the country.

VP Osinbajo discussed this on Monday in Abuja at the International Conference on “Access to Health and Socio-Economic Development Beyond Covid-19: The First Multisectoral Approach to Finding Solutions.”

The conference was organized by the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, NIPRD. He said the global health trend has made it essential for Nigeria to establish its own vaccine production facilities.

“Nigeria is in talks with the private lending arm of the World Bank and other lenders to raise around $30 million to help finance a vaccine factory.

“Bio-vaccine Nigeria Limited is chaired by Professor Oyewale Tomori; 49 percent of the company is owned by the Nigerian government with the remainder held by May and Baker Nigeria PLC and they are planning to start construction of a factory.

“ I believe in the first quarter of next year; the plant which is supposed to be located in Ota, Ogun State, will initially, we are told, fill and finish, which I’m also told, means importing the raw materials for the vaccines and then packaging them for distribution.

“Some South African companies are already involved in this task; I believe Aspen Pharmacare and Belvac Institute operate similar facilities.

“Full manufacturing, we are told, should follow in the months or years to come; I’m not quite sure when.

“So it’s obvious that the way forward is more funding for healthcare and research for innovators to develop solutions in pharmaceuticals and medical consumables.”

The Vice President said that through the discussion he had with NIPRD Director-General Dr. Obi Adigwe, he was inspired by the potential and the kind of support that the pharmaceutical industry and research agencies provided.

Osinbajo said the federal government established the Health Sector Intervention Fund which disbursed 76.9 billion naira, or about $185 million, to finance the acquisition and installation of critical medical care equipment.

He said the fund was also intended for the expansion of production lines at various pharmaceutical companies across the country.

According to him, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is also supporting a number of research and development initiatives in the health sector, as it has disbursed a total of 233 billion naira in grants.

Mr. Osinbajo said the NIPRD is also making immense contributions to developing a local cure for COVID-19.

“NIPRD has also developed an impressive variety of pharmaceutical products from indigenous resources and both the Niprimune and Niprimune plus both of which I have the pleasure of seeing, have been found to possess a reasonable property that is able to prevent or combat COVID-19.

“Both products, which have been registered by NAFDAC, are currently undergoing clinical studies at various levels with a view to production approval for emergency use.

“NIPRD Director-General Dr. Obi Adigwe assured that around the same time next year, the institute will launch three new products currently under development at its centers for nanomedicine, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“It is this proactive approach that we must adopt in the face of the slow access to vaccines in Africa and of course in Nigeria.

“Although we have received help from some friendly countries and the Covax alliance, less than 4 percent of our eligible population would have been vaccinated by the end of this year.

“There is no doubt that we cannot afford not to have our own vaccine production facilities.”

He said the COVID-19 pandemic was a revelation for him in five different ways: the unpreparedness of most developed economies; vaccine reluctance and the danger of conspiracy theory and misinformation, especially in a public health crisis.

VP Osinbajo said the fourth revelation was that, in terms of the COVID-19-wide global health crisis, help should not be expected.

“The fifth revelation is that despite infrastructure weaknesses, in Nigeria we have an experienced and robust public health system, populated by some of the best staff in the world.

“But more importantly, we have the opportunity to become one of the leading countries in healthcare,” he said.

Earlier, in his welcoming address, Adigwe said the conference was the first of its kind to bring together multidisciplinary academics to engage, innovate and synthesize new approaches to solving global health challenges.

Keynote speaker Prof Joseph Fortunak, who spoke virtually, said COVID-19 exposed the vulnerability of the pharmaceutical supply chain and urged Nigeria to take drug manufacturing seriously.

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Travel

High Altitude, Higher Prices: Domestic Airfares Jump 150%

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Nigerian air travelers are reeling from a dramatic increase in domestic airfares with prices skyrocketing by 150% over the past year.

This surge has forced many passengers to reconsider their travel options, opting for road transport despite the risks involved.

Passengers like Dare Adepoju, who frequently commutes between Lagos and Abuja for business and family visits, have expressed frustration.

“It’s unsustainable,” he lamented. “With flights nearing N200,000 for just an hour, I’m exhausted.”

Social media is abuzz with similar sentiments. Akinloa Adejuwon tweeted about the tough choice between costly flights and unsafe roads, highlighting the dire situation many Nigerians face.

The fare increase is attributed to a limited number of operational aircraft. Airline Operators of Nigeria revealed that many planes are grounded due to maintenance needs and lack of access to foreign exchange for repairs.

The current situation sees airlines like Ibom Air and Air Peace charging up to N238,000 for a one-way ticket between major cities.

This price jump, from about N51,000 last year, reflects the severe challenges the industry faces.

Capt. Roland Iyayi, a senior member of the Airline Operators of Nigeria, pointed to the shortage of aircraft as a primary cause.

“Making forex available to airlines is crucial for resolving this crisis,” he stated.

As the industry grapples with these challenges, passengers continue to hope for relief. The aviation sector’s future hinges on addressing these issues, ensuring safe and affordable travel for all Nigerians.

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Education

Southern States Skeptical as NELFund Disburses First Loans

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The National Education Loan Fund (NELFund) officially launched on Wednesday, a significant step in providing financial aid to students across Nigeria.

However, the initiative faces skepticism, particularly from the southern states.

President Bola Tinubu inaugurated the first tranche of funds, amounting to N32 billion, aimed at empowering Nigerian youth and breaking financial barriers to education.

The NELFund portal has registered 164,000 students, with 103,000 applying for loans.

Despite the promising start, many southern states remain doubtful about the fund’s implementation.

Akintunde Sawyerr, NELFund’s Managing Director, acknowledged these concerns, citing data challenges in verifying indigent applicants as a primary hurdle.

Sawyerr highlighted the lack of comprehensive data needed for credit assessments. The fund relies on bank verification numbers (BVN), National Identification Numbers (NIN), and educational institution data to determine eligibility.

More applications have been received from northern states, where students have shown greater confidence in the fund.

Sawyerr pointed out that skepticism in the south might stem from uncertainty about the program’s viability.

NELFund offers two types of loans: educational fees paid directly to institutions and upkeep loans for student stipends.

The focus is currently on government-owned institutions to ensure a smooth rollout.

President Tinubu emphasized education as a critical tool against poverty and insecurity, linking the nation’s challenges to a lack of educational opportunities.

He reaffirmed his commitment to inclusive growth through education.

As NELFund continues its rollout, efforts to address data issues and regional skepticism will be crucial. By building trust and ensuring transparency, the program aims to support more students nationwide and foster a fairer society.

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Travel

UAE Lifts Visa Ban on Nigerians, Introduces N640,000 Non-Refundable Application Fee

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has officially lifted the visa ban imposed on Nigerian passport holders, effective July 15.

However, this positive move comes with a substantial caveat—a new non-refundable visa application fee of N640,000.

The announcement, made following bilateral discussions between Nigerian and UAE authorities, ends a prolonged period of restricted travel between the two nations due to diplomatic disputes and financial issues.

New Visa Regulations

Under the new guidelines set forth by the UAE government, Nigerian passport holders seeking to travel to the Emirates must adhere to several stringent requirements:

  1. Application Fee: Applicants are required to pay a non-refundable fee of N640,000 for visa processing. This fee represents a significant increase compared to the previous $100 fee before the ban.
  2. Document Verification Number (DVN): Before applying for a visa, applicants must obtain a Document Verification Number (DVN). This number is valid for only 14 days from issuance or until the visa application is processed, whichever comes first.
  3. Application Process: The application process for UAE visas remains stringent, emphasizing the importance of meeting all specified criteria to enhance the chances of approval.

Public Reaction and Outcry

The introduction of the N640,000 visa application fee has sparked widespread criticism and public outcry among Nigerians, particularly on social media platforms. Many have expressed their discontent, labeling the new fee as exorbitant and financially burdensome, especially in light of economic challenges facing the country.

Social media users have taken to various platforms to voice their concerns:

  • @firstladyship: “It is obvious the UAE don’t want Nigerians. They reluctantly unbanned the Nigerian passport, but slammed a hefty N640,000 on Nigerians. Guess what? The money is nonrefundable & has expiration date. This is see finish.”
  • @Peco3D: “This is just extortion in fine words. Shameless.”
  • @Comr_lucky1: “This is exploitation and shameful if allowed by Nigeria government.”

Government Response

Mohammed Idris, Minister of Information and National Orientation, announced the lifting of the visa ban and emphasized that Nigerian passport holders are now eligible to apply for visas to the UAE.

The government has acknowledged the concerns raised by citizens and assured them of continued engagement to address the issue.

Background

The UAE had imposed the visa ban on Nigeria approximately two years ago amid diplomatic tensions and financial disputes.

Efforts to resolve these issues included discussions and negotiations between the Nigerian and UAE governments, leading to the recent breakthrough in visa restrictions.

Despite the imposition of the N640,000 visa fee, the lifting of the ban represents a step forward in diplomatic relations between Nigeria and the UAE, potentially paving the way for enhanced bilateral cooperation and economic ties.

As Nigerian travelers navigate these new visa regulations, reactions continue to pour in, reflecting the broader impact of international relations on individual mobility and economic opportunities.

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