From Fred Ezeh, Abuja

Eight years after it withdrew its support to Nigerian health system, GAVI, the vaccine alliance has re-established its presence in Nigeria’s health care system, particularly primary health care system.

GAVI, the vaccine alliance, is an international organisation created in year 2000 to improve access to new and underused vaccines for children living in the world’s poorest countries.

The return of GAVI, the vaccine alliance, will allow Nigeria direct access to GAVI funds, enabling it to freely make request or place demand on issues of primary health care particularly vaccines and other related services.

Minister of health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, at a event to celebrate the return of GAVI, the vaccine alliance, in Abuja, on Thursday, said the return of GAVI to Nigeria health care system was a pointer to the level of confidence in the health care system, particularly as regards transparency and accountability.

He recalled that GAVI had stopped funding programmes in Nigeria through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) following unsatisfactory findings from GAVI programme audit in 2015.

“The recommencement of direct funding is a testimony to the renewed confidence in the country’s financial management system especially on the part of the current NPHCDA management. This aligns with the current government’s zero tolerance for financial mismanagement practices and anti-corruption stance.”

He confirmed that the direct programme funding will lead to major advantages of streamlining of approval process to save time, cost and system strengthening in financial management. “It’s expected that GAVI and other partners will continue to provide technical support to enable us to maximize the gains of these process transition.”

He appreciated GAVI for the renewed confidence in the leadership of Nigeria’s health sector, assuring that Government will continue to preserve the confidence through accountability policies put in place to enable greater transparency and closer grant monitoring and management.

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He said the establishment of a Grant Compliance Coordinating Office (GCCO) in NPHCDA is a step in the right direction, stressing that the office will have the responsibility of ensuring judicious utilization of all funds from government and partners provided for programmes in NPHCDA.

Executive Director, NPHCDA, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, in his remarks, confessed that GAVI’s decision years ago affected the operations of NPHCDA, particularly in areas of administration of immunization and other engagements.

He said: ” the funds that were supposed to come to NPHCDA directly were channeled and disbursed through development partners for activities approved for NPHCDA to implement. This hurt the system, and apart from the fact that part of the funds went for payment of Procurement Service Charges (PSC), there were avoidable delays in the approval processes of our development partners for utilization of the funds.

“Some of the approval bottlenecks were due to a misalignment of the Federal Government of Nigeria and implementing partners’ priorities, which did not bode well for the country’s goals and aspirations.

Apart from ensuring that every naira of the misused funds were paid back, we have improved the image of the Agency through establishment of fit-for-purpose structures aimed at checkmating the then prevalent forces of impunity and total lack of accountability.

“The established structures included GCCO which had the responsibility of ensuring that grants and other funding support are being appropriately utilized, in line with the objectives of their infusion into the system. All programme leads had to report to GCCO on their activities especially as regards fund utilization.

“We also created the office of an Advisor to the Executive Director on Accountability and Transparency in fund utilization, with the Officer reporting directly to the Executive Director/CEO. The GAVI alliance has graciously taken over the responsibility for paying the remuneration of the officer in this position, which is a welcome development as it goes a long way towards ensuring independence for this office.”

Meanwhile, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha and Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, both appreciated GAVI for their decision to recommence direct funding of programmes in Nigeria, saying that it’s an indication that the institutional reforms of the Buhari administration had yielded the desired result.