The Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Monday night met with President Muhammadu Buhari, briefing him on her efforts to mobilise Covid vaccine manufacturers to Nigeria.
Speaking to correspondents after the meeting at Millennium Plaza, Manhattan, New York, she said she requested the president’s support for some ongoing initiatives of the world body.
The former Nigerian Minister for Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy lamented the inequities in Covid vaccine distribution, saying that even the vaccinated are unsafe where most of the population is not vaccinated.
On the meeting with the president, she said: “It’s been a wonderful engagement. I came to brief His Excellency on the WTO and the work that it is ongoing and to talk about how the WTO may be supportive to the continent and so, to ask His Excellency to support some of the work we are doing on some of the negotiations, like fisheries, what we’re doing on health, on COVID, trying to get manufacturers of vaccines to come into the country and into the continent. So, these are some of the things we talked about.”
On the push for the manufacturers, she said: “Well, what we’re trying to do, you know, there’s this UNGA conference, and then President Biden has just called a conference on COVID. On the 22nd in Washington in which we’ve also been invited to.
“What we’re trying to say is that the inequity in access to vaccines is not acceptable. The fact that on the African continent, less than 4% of us have been vaccinated, whereas in the rich countries, you know, close to 50% have been vaccinated, it’s not something that really is good for the world. Why? Because we have all these variants that are circulating. And if you don’t vaccinate people, they will just migrate from unvaccinated to the vaccinated.
“So, what we’re saying is, in order to solve this problem, we have to produce more vaccines. And then we have to distribute them equitably, to parts of the world that don’t have. And that’s the narrative.
“At the WTO, what we’re doing is actually working directly with the manufacturers. We’re helping them monitor their supply chains, which are very complicated, to see what are the bottlenecks they have, what are the regulatory issues they face, how can we facilitate trade? Because moving supplies from one place to the other for the manufacturer is straight. How can we facilitate this for them?
“In return, by asking them to deconcentrate production and go to those parts of the world where they have can invest. For example, on the African continent, we don’t want to continue importing 99% of vaccines that we use, or 90% of our pharmaceuticals.
“So, they should invest, and I think it’s working. Pfizer announced $100 million investment in South Africa recently. We’re also looking at Nigeria, we’re the largest country and His Excellency Mr. president also wants to develop manufacturing. So we want to support that.
“We’ve been working with the honourable Minister of Health, to see what we can attract, the investment we can attract to Nigeria.”