Experts urge PSC to focus summit on improving pandemic preparedness, management

Public health experts have called on the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19, to focus its up coming summit on improving pandemic preparedness and management in the country.

They said this in separate interviews with News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday in Abuja.

NAN reports that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and chairman, PSC on COVID-19, Mr Boss Mustapha, said the committee would hold a COVID-19 summit from Dec. 6-8, in partnership with the Coalition of Development Partners in the country.

The theme of the summit, which is a prelude to winding down the activities of committee is, “Pushing through the Last Mile to End the Pandemic and Build Back Better.”

Dr Solomon Chollom, a Jos-based virologist, said the PSC should

focus on public health reforms to build support for additional investments in epidemic preparedness and response in the country.

Chollom noted that it would be a good thing for the committee to produce data on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the citizens, health system and the economy.

He added that this would help to build the political case for increased resources that would in turn create the political will needed for budget increases.

The expert said with advocacy, a robust framework for epidemic preparedness as a public health priority would be birthed.

He added that building consensus among political decision makers and trust within communities was necessary to fostering an environment that prioritised preparedness funding.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Presidential Tasks Force on COVID-19, now PSC directly engaged with the state governors, community and religious leaders through educational events, at which they were all encouraged to promote epidemic preparedness.

“These events empowered them to spread the word, gave them an opportunity to make their voices heard and served to build trust in communities,” he added.

According to him, another critical area is the need for to mantain structures, facilities and framework built for the 2020 pandemic response. “Nigeria rose to the occasion to set up molecular testing laboratories, state emergency response offices and isolation centres, among others.

“If available reports are anything to go by, then we have to be sad that most of the testing centres have been deserted either by lack of sample drives, fatigue and lack of motivation.

“If this is true, then what becomes of the equipment in these facilities which may become redundant, diverted or lose efficiency.

“One best way to prepare for the next pandemic is to carry with us institutional memory and institutional structures that we deployed previously,” said Chollom.

According to Dr. Abigail Banji, a health economist, investing in epidemic preparedness means that the country’s healthcare system is strengthened.

Banjo said COVID-19 had shown how imperative it was for health security to be a top agenda.

“Health security isn’t just about health, it is to ensure the security and growth of the economy,” she said.

Banji recalled that she advocated for an increase in the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) budget for infectious diseases. “I was hoping the agency would get an increase of 82.6 per cent but it got 75 per cent increase.

“The former Director General said the 2021 budget was not enough  to fund the agency’s generators.”

She added that the budget for the health sector had more than doubled over the past five years, and that it increased by 123.6 per cent from N305.06 billion in 2016 to N682.13 billion in 2021.

“The Global Health Security Agenda is very clear on domestic sustainable funding for health security. Sustainable funding for health security is critical to protecting Nigerians,” she added.

Banji said there was need for the summit to target public health expenditure to ensure appropriate revenues were raised where possible, while maintaining services. (NAN)