The coming of COVID-19 into Nigeria exposed many challenges faced by Nigerian health sector – the shortage of ventilators and possible mismanagement of funds. People couldn’t contain their disappointment when rumours spread that State House Clinic has no ventilator and that they had to move one of the two functioning ventilators in University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada to Aso Rock Clinic when the president’s chief of staff became ill with COVID-19 (they didn’t consider that people were using those ventilators). What everyone asked then was why such equipment wasn’t in the villa clinic despite the fact that billions of naira are allocated to it yearly.
It is quite unfortunate that Nigerian tertiary hospitals, where very critical medical cases are referred to, could not boast of owning plenty of ventilators. It shows that people with critical respiratory problems will have no help with managing their breathing difficulties. It shows why people die despite being in hospitals where consultants could handle their cases. It was indeed a mess for the whole country.
Unfortunately for Nigeria and Nigerians, the urgent need for ventilators came when the country was seeking for financial help and could, therefore, not afford to procure as many ventilators as it’s needed to combat this disease. The situation was so bad to the extent that Nigerian Ministry of Finance had to stoop so low to “beg” for ventilators from an American billionaire, Elon Musk, during his Twitter Ventilators Give-Away. Even though the ministry came back later to state that the “begging” was unauthorised, the breeze has already blown and everyone has seen the fowl’s buttock. Nigeria is in a dire need for ventilators and she cannot afford to procure them now.
But this is not the time for apportioning blames. In fact, everyone should come together to find a way out of this mess. So it was indeed a great relief, and an act worthy of great honour when the Faculty of Engineering, Bayero University Kano (BUK), set-up a 7-man committee to design and fabricate prototype ventilators. This committee, chaired by Prof. Abdussamad Umar Jibia from the Dept. of Mechatronics Engineering, has 2 weeks to report back to the Faculty Board with the prototype design as well as recommendations on how the ventilators could be mass produced.
This is a welcoming development; in fact it is what the numerous research centres in our universities should be investing in right now. It is time for our professors to come out with their “handouts” and put to test what they have been teaching in classes. It is time to practice what has been theorised on for a long time. But then, there is something everyone is waiting to hear from BUK – how it intends to FUND the project.
It is known that ventilators are not cheap to procure. This is why all the countries of the world are in shortage of the life-saving machine. Yes, Nigeria is not the only country in need of the machine; it’s just that ours is very pathetic. But one way or the other, ventilators must be brought in for the sick.
Prior to the announcement made by BUK about their intention to fabricate ventilators, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company has declared its intention to manufacture ventilators. Premium Times on Saturday 4th April, 2020, stated the Innoson Motors already had plans on ground to fabricate hundreds of ventilators within the next 90 days, but they lack enough funds to do so. For that, the management sorted for N4b loan from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which they applied for through the presidential taskforce and a private bank. No one knows whether this loan application has been granted but it calls to mind the fact that BUK may not have the capability to fund the manufacturing of enough ventilators.
It is worrisome that the good intentions of these Nigerians may be frustrated by lack of funds. The thought of money being the reason for the death of many Nigerians during this COVID-19 epidemic leaves bitter taste in one’s mouth. It is more appalling when one remembers that the federal government has been sourcing for loans and that the price of crude oil falls by the day. This calls for only one option for the funding of this project – private donations and grants.
The drama surrounding donations by private individuals and corporate organisations towards the coronavirus containment is still worrisome, especially as Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, stated that the presidential taskforce on COVID-19 has not received “any kobo” from any private individual or organisations. But this will obviously be sorted out when these individuals and organisations know where their money is going into.
This is therefore a call to the FG, private individuals, corporate organisations and other humanitarian organisations to support the fabrication of ventilators in Nigeria so that the country will register few casualties as the battle with this deadly illness lasts. Other university authorities and machine manufacturers should also come out and lend their quota towards this battle. Hopefully, if these ventilator fabricators are supported duly, the machine will be available in our hospitals in no time.