The African Health Budget Network (AHBN) has awarded the sum of $25,000 to the Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria (HERFON) and its two other Consortium partners; the Vaccine Network for Disease Control (VNDC) and Gem Hub Initiative (GHI) as grant to support the Nigerian Global Health Security Agenda.

The Executive Secretary, Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria (HERFON), Dr Celestine Okorie, disclosed this at a media briefing in Abuja.

The grant, which according to him, will run for a period of 18 months is titled: “Strengthening accountability for Health Security finances and vaccines equitable access in Nigeria.”

Dr Okorie explained that the grant, “is aimed at advocacy to strengthen our ability to prevent, detect and respond to public health events which threaten our collective health.

“In view of this, we recently participated in the Africa Regional Advocacy Summit for NGOs and Media organized by the AHBN in its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria.

“Stakeholders from eight African countries participated in the summit and exchanged ideas on how to strengthen the health security in Africa.

“We also participated in the recently concluded Joint External Evaluation – Health Security Action Plan organized by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) where a diverse team of experts, collectively evaluated our nation’s preparedness and response capacities across 19 technical areas, under the guidance of relevant Ministries, Departments, and Agencies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a valuable lesson that we must strengthen our national health security preparedness.”

Responding to a question on the expected short-, medium- and long-term outcome of the grant, the HERFON Executive Director, said: “The expected outcome of the grant money is advocacy.

“It means we are going to do high level engagement to stakeholders to draw their attention on the need for us to be prepared not to relax and wait for the next pandemic so that it will not take us unawares just the way COVID-19 did.

“We want draw the attention of stakeholders and engage them and be part of drawing the plan for the health security agenda. That means getting prepared for the unforeseen.”

Dr Okorie demanded that as the Federal Government is reviewing the Health Security Action Plan for the next five years, “there is an important need for us to mobilize domestic of resources for funding our national health security agenda. We need to look inwards rather than relying on multilateral organizations like the WHO and others to tackle our health security challenges.

“We call on the Federal Government to fully fund the national health security agenda as we cannot afford to be caught unawares again during the next epidemic or pandemic.

“We further wish to state that there is an important need to improve accountability and transparency in the management of funds for our public health security agenda. This was especially lacking during the last COVID-19 epidemic response in Nigeria.”

Dr Okorie further reiterated that: “To promote accountability in our national security agenda, we strongly recommend that CSOs should have a permanent seat at the table during the development and implementation of the national health security agenda as the CSOs have the capacity to track accountability in the process on behalf of the civil society.

“We call for improved coordination in the National Health Security Agenda development and implementation. The Federal Government needs to strengthen the coordination and include certain critical stakeholders in the process.”

On his part, the Programme Manager, Health Sector Reform Foundation, Dr Opeyemi Adeosun, disclosed that the Consortium has already put together a plan and that one of the key areas was working closely with the media.

“It is only the media that can help us push the message out. In as much as the whole essence is to focus on advocacy to the key stakeholders that can make the relevant changes in terms of health security agenda, we also know that the media can help us interface with both the demand and supply side.”

He reiterated that health security is the business of all, insisting that “we all have to be involved.

“Even though the amount involved is not that much, the consortium is made up of experts in different areas, we are coming together to ensure we judiciously use the money to have good result at the end of the day.”

While calling for the deep involvement of CSOs, Dr Adeosun, said, “the involvement of CSOs who can be like independent bodies that can work closely with the government agencies to support the government to provide necessary support is one thing we are asking for.

“We don’t want to be staying outside the fence and be castigating. We want to get involved and make sure that at the end of the day, the success of the coordinating body which is the NCDC and other stakeholders will be our success as Nigerians.”