Uniting against Covid-19

Peter Uzoho writes about a partnership that seeks to raise billions of naira from Nigerians at home and abroad to combat the coronavirus pandemic and other public health challenges in the country

At a time of global economic and political upheaval when business and political leaders are looked upon to provide a solution as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Global Citizen, an international citizens’ action-led advocacy organisation that is working with the United Nations is partnering with the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) to launch a COVID-19 Solidarity Fund in Nigeria.

A virtual press conference to announce the Fund recently had the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed; Chairman of Global Citizen in Nigeria, Mr. Tunde Folawiyo; Vice Chairman, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede and Global Citizen Chief Policy Officer, Mr. Michael Sheldrick, as participants.
Representing the NSIA were the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Mr. Jide Zeitlin, and Managing Director of NSIA, Mr. Uche Orji.

According to the promoters of the initiative, the Nigeria Solidarity Support Fund was designed to provide additional support for Nigeria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fund, according to Folawiyo, would enable Nigerian Citizens resident at home or in the diaspora as well as international donors to come together and directly contribute to Nigeria’s fight against the pandemic.

Globally, there are nearly 5.7 million confirmed cases and over 360,000 deaths. As political, business, and public health leaders are balancing every decision to ensure life can return to normal, the pandemic and its negative impact on socio-economic activities have not abated.

The number of reported cases in Nigeria is inching towards 10,000 and this has made the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, to impose another round of two weeks limited easing of lockdown on the country.

Since Nigeria recorded the index case on the 27th of February 2020, the virus has spread to 35 of the 36 states in the country. The spread of the virus has brought to light the weak capacity of our health care systems and the likelihood of this exacerbating the impact of the pandemic on the Nigerian economy. Monetary and fiscal authorities are scrambling for different measures to reduce economic hardship that will follow.

Many private organisations and individuals have contributed money to support Federal and State governments’ efforts in the last 3 months but none of the supports have taken the form and shape of what Global Citizen and NSIA have put in place in terms of structure and scope.

Before the outbreak of Covid-19, Global Citizen Nigeria at a Policy Dialogue held in December of 2019 in Lagos, had unveiled a plan to intervene in Primary Healthcare delivery in 774 Local Governments in the country. The Covid-19 pandemic has made the intervention more compelling according to the Vice Chairman, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede who raised other public health challenges Nigeria and Africa still face like Malaria, HIV/AIDS, and Tuberculosis all of which, he said, require attention.

In the words of the Global Citizen Nigeria Vice Chairman, over 500,000 HIV/AIDS patients have not been able to access treatment since the outbreak of COVID-19 in many African countries because government efforts across the continent have shifted to combating the scourge of coronavirus. The problem with this approach is that inability to provide antiretroviral treatments and other healthcare needs of these patients for up to a period of 6 months could result in deaths, almost at the scale African Countries recorded over a decade ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented significant health, social and economic challenges across the world. The Federal Government of Nigeria instituted measures such as increasing access to testing, contact tracing, isolation, and implementing social distancing protocol to contain the potentially devastating impact of this deadly virus; however, more support is needed.

Given the unprecedented nature of this global pandemic, both in its impact and severity, it is clear that this is a challenge that the public sector cannot tackle alone. The virus can only be defeated through careful coordination and collaborative efforts of the public sector, private sector, and philanthropists.
As the pandemic’s impact is unprecedented; so too is the commitment of Nigerians both at home and abroad who have rallied to help one another and stand in solidarity against this deadly virus.

The Nigeria Solidarity Support Fund will be incorporated as a non-government charitable foundation. In line with global best practices, it will be professionally managed and transparently governed through a strong Advisor Board comprising eminently qualified men and women to ensure that the funds are effectively used and properly accounted for.
This stakeholder led-and-resourced mechanism will provide tools to augment ongoing efforts to respond to COVID-19 in communities across Nigeria, as well as to strengthen health systems in the aftermath of the acute pandemic response.

“The government of Nigeria is delighted that the NSIA, together with the world’s leading international advocacy organization, Global Citizen, and their partners, have embarked on a process to set up a new funding vehicle. The Nigeria Solidarity Support Fund (NSSF) will provide support to our most vulnerable communities in the fight against COVID-19,” said Osinbajo

The NSIA plays a leading role in driving Nigeria’s sustained economic development through the careful implementation of its three core mandates: building a savings base for the Nigerian people, development of infrastructure and providing stabilization in times of economic stress.

“As the SWF of the most populous country on the continent, it is important for the Board of the NSIA to support collaborations of this nature which further strengthens the nation’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The unprecedented challenge posed by the outbreak demands that we embrace flexibility as never before on partnerships with the right organizations to help mobilize support for the fund as well as building sustainable systems in our communities,” Zeitlin said.
The Chief Executive of NSIA noted in his presentation coronavirus has already put a major strain on public health infrastructure coupled with dislocation it has caused for social and economic activities, adding that working with the Global Citizen will help to bring much needed relief.

Orji said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has strained the nation’s health, social and economic systems, yet our resolve to work together to contain it remains unflinching. Against this background, we are thrilled to partner with Global Citizen in launching the Nigeria Solidarity Support Fund, as the Fund Manager.”

NSIA’s long term infrastructure investment strategy entails creating model tertiary healthcare facilities designed and equipped to international standards to reduce the foreign exchange burden of medical tourism and to develop domestic expertise in tertiary healthcare. The collaboration with Global Citizen will help extend the agency’s primary care footprint in healthcare. The Solidarity Support Fund will enable the expansion of primary health care, thereby improving access, building capacity, and enhancing the resilience of Nigeria’s health delivery, especially in rural and underserved communities.

Global Citizen is the world’s largest movement of action takers and impact makers dedicated to ending extreme poverty by 2030. With over 10 million monthly advocates, Global Citizen’s voices have the power to drive lasting change around sustainability, equality, and humanity. The organization’s work with partners, the actions of its global community, along with high-level advocacy efforts, has resulted in commitments and policy announcements from world leaders valued at over US$48 billion (N18.7 trillion), affecting the lives of more than 2.25 billion people across the globe by 2030.

“Global Citizen’s ongoing commitment to the African continent and, in particular, Nigeria is motivated by two key factors: The shift in geopolitical power towards emerging markets, and the recognition that developing countries want and need to have agency over their own development, this makes a presence in the sub-Saharan region vital to the long-term success of any initiative seeking to end extreme poverty,” Sheldrick explained.

On his part, Folawiyo said: “As we embark upon our work in Nigeria, Global Citizen will mobilize Nigerians, Nigerians in the diaspora, global partners, together with the philanthropic and private sectors in our nation’s fight against COVID-19.”

Nigeria’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic requires individual and collective commitment. Through the Nigeria Solidarity Support Fund, together, and in solidarity, the nation will rebuild towards a more responsive and resilient Nigeria in the aftermath of this disaster.

It will target four core COVID-19 response, mitigation and recovery areas including: supporting the most vulnerable populations; strengthening the domestic healthcare systems; expanding access to rural and community focused universal healthcare access; and re-skilling and re-tooling for the “New Nigerian Renaissance” post COVID-19

“Our efforts must ensure that we are able to envision and meet the demands that will emerge in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is imperative as the nation adjusts to the realities of a changing economy, transitions to a “new normal”, and embraces the Nigeria of the future”. – Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede.

The COVID – 19 pandemic manifests primarily as a global health challenge. It is clear however that its impact far exceeds the health sector. Mitigation efforts, therefore, must not be limited to the acute health sector needs. To effectively support Nigeria’s response and to emerge from this as a more resilient nation, efforts must take an integrated, systems approach at the center of which is a mandate to support the most vulnerable communities.

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