How billionaire philanthropist, Ned Nwoko catalyzed approval of first malaria Vaccine

Prince Ned Nwoko (left) holds aloft the Nigerian flag in South Pole, Antarctica

How billionaire philanthropist, Ned Nwoko catalyzed approval of first malaria Vaccine  

Prince Ned Munir Nwoko, the Chairman of Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation (PNNF) has for long had his eyes fixed on eradication of malaria in Nigeria and Africa as opposed to treatment and control. Due to his caring disposition for his country and Africa, he picked up the gauntlet to confront malaria, Africa’s biggest health and socio-economic challenge.   The Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation is a non-governmental organization with headquarters in Abuja. Over the last two years, the foundation has been carrying out intensive campaign through various activities all targeted at eradicating malaria in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Within the last six months in particular, the foundation sought and obtained approval from the Federal Ministry of Health in Abuja to support and coordinate a national response towards malaria eradication involving strategic partnerships for the deployment of the premier malaria vaccine, RTSS in Nigeria. The approval was the culmination of relentless efforts advocacies of the PNNF towards achieving its objective of permanently ridding Nigeria and Africa of malaria.   On December 18, 2019 in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, the former member of House of Representatives formally unveiled the Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation Malaria Eradication in Africa Project (PNNF-MEAP) with the central aim of working and collaborating with appropriate multilateral agencies, organizations, companies, governments and individuals to achieve a malaria-free Nigeria and Africa by extension in less than a decade. The philanthropist was concerned that Africa has not just the largest population of poor people in the world but is the most affected continent by malaria coupled with the fact that Nigeria is the worst affected country globally.

Most recent statistics by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that the African region accounted for 94% of all malaria cases and deaths worldwide. During the period, six African countries accounted for approximately half of all malaria deaths globally. These are Nigeria (24%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), United Republic of Tanzania (5%), Burkina Faso (4%), Mozambique (4%) and Niger (4%).The 2019 World Malaria Report rates Nigeria as the country with the highest number of annual global malaria cases (25 % of 229 million world malaria cases). Nigeria also accounted for the highest number of deaths (24 %) of 409,000 worldwide yearly malaria deaths. The Africa’s most populous country had indeed occupied that unenviable position for several successive decades and malaria is transmitted all over the country while over 70% of her population resides in high transmission areas.

Global direct costs of malaria annually through illness, treatment, premature deaths etc have been estimated to be far above US$ 10 billion as at 2020 while the cost in lost economic growth is several folds more. To Prince Ned Nwoko, no stone should be left unturned to ensure that this worrisome statistics is reversed speedily. Thus in the Malaria Eradication Project, the Prince Ned Nwoko foundation’s cardinal delivery plans cover supporting or investing in development of anti-malaria vaccine, environmental sanitation, waste recycling, Indoor Residual Spray and Fumigation.

The foundation’s Malaria Eradication Project recently yielded yet another desired dividend with the recent approval of RTSS malaria vaccine implementation in endemic countries by the World Health Organization (WHO). Already, the Minister of Health has approved the vaccine’s implementation in Nigeria, based on the framework submitted by the Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation’s Malaria Eradication Project. The RTSS vaccine is a product of decades of research which involved stages of trial. In all the RTSS trials revealed that it is effective in infants aged 1 to 5 years. It is the first vaccine to be endorsed by WHO for widespread use in countries. The final clinical trial of the vaccine was carried out in three sub-Saharan African countries namely Ghana, Malawi and Kenya under the WHO’s Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP).

It is noteworthy that the United Nations (UN) and the WHO having noticed the Prince Ned Nwoko foundation’s determination accepted to collaborate with it in the quest to eradicate malaria from Nigeria and Africa. The approach to the vaccine breakthrough was facilitated via deliberate actions, engagements and collaboration by the PNNF.

On Wednesday, December 18th, 2019, the PNNF formally began the journey towards a malaria-free Nigeria and Africa when Prince Ned Nwoko addressed a world press conference in Abuja to unveil the malaria eradication in Africa project.

That was followed with Prince Ned Nwoko’s strategic expedition to the world’s coldest continent, Antarctica and the South Pole between 8th and 15th January 2020. By that expedition, he made history by becoming the first black African to reach the South Pole in Antarctica and hoisted the Nigerian flag there, calling for Malaria Eradication in Africa. During the expedition, he also held valuable discussion with a group of scientists in the Antarctic Research Based Stations on the quest to fumigate Africa and accelerate development of reliable malaria vaccine.

On February 25, 2020, the PNNF held a roundtable discussion with some Nigerian professors and experts that worked on the lot to lot trial of the RTS,S Malaria Vaccine. They include Prof. Steve Oguche, Prof. Tagbo Eguonu, Dr. Chioma Amajoh, Prof. Wellington Oyibo, Dr. Dapo Adeogun and Dr. Emmanuel Obi. Also present at the meeting were Dr Nnenna Ogbulafor, representing the National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP), Ambassador Ozo Nwobu and Dr Okechukwu Udeh. Notable conclusions at the meeting include: Galvanizing plans to advocate for the implementation of the RTS,S Vaccine in Nigeria; establishing a proper malaria surveillance system and improving on effective data management. In the course of the meeting, it came to the foundation’s knowledge that only three African countries were selected for the pilot trial of the RTSS Malaria Vaccine namely Malawi, Kenya and Ghana. The foundation was dissatisfied that Nigeria which bears the most burden of malaria in Africa was not selected and immediately started consultations on how Nigeria could regain a priority rating in the RTSS Vaccine deployment once approved.

Also in February, 2020, the Prince Ned Nwoko foundation engaged a group of science professors in Delta State, Nigeria to advise and facilitate the process of having a Malaria research Centre in Nigeria for vaccine development. The group comprised Prof. Endurance Ophori, Prof. Godwin Avwioro, Prof. Nduka Uriah, Prof. Nosa Eghafona and Prof. Chris Osubor.

The PNNF officially presented the Malaria Project action plan to Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Dr. Osage Ehanire on December 8, 2020 at the Federal Ministry of Health in Abuja and called for the collaboration of the Ministry in the quest to eradicate malaria in Africa via sanitation, fumigation, waste management and vaccine development.

In furtherance of the efforts to bring RTS,S Malaria Vaccine to Nigeria, the PNNF invited the RTS,S Vaccine experts and other malaria specialists and held a two-day workshop between March 18 and 19, 2021 to develop a concept note and proposal to the Federal Ministry of Health for the foundation to lead in the deployment of RTS,S in Nigeria. The following RTS,S Malaria vaccine partners were identified for consultation: GSK, WHO, PATH, GAVI, PMI/USAID, DFID/Malaria Consortium, Malaria Vaccine Initiative, Federal Ministry of Health, NAFDAC, NPHCDA, etc. The attendees of the workshop include Prof. Steve Oguche, Prof. Tagbo Oguonu, Prof. Wellington Oyibo, Dr. Godwin Ntadom, Dr Chioma Amajoh, Emmanuel Obi and Chukwuebuka Anyaduba, the National Coordinator for Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation Malaria Project.  At the end of the workshop, a committee was formed known as R-MAC (RTS,S Malaria Vaccine Implementation Committee) to consist of all vaccine partners mentioned above. Recommendation was also reached with timeline of activities.

Again, on the 1st of April 2021, the PNNF submitted a proposal to the Minister of Health requesting the support of the Federal Ministry of Health on the proposed roll out of RTS,S Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP) in Nigeria by the foundation.

On the occasion of the 2021 World Malaria Day on April 25, the Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation organized and led a Malaria Awareness Walk with Malaria Partners and amongst the campaign messages was the need for the RTS,S vaccine to be deployed to Nigeria having shown significant results in the pilot countries of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.

On 28 May 2021, at Hon Ned Nwoko’s country home in Idumuje-Ugboko, Aniocha North Local Government Area, Delta State, he hosted the United Nations Diplomatic team led by UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon and the WHO Representative in Nigeria, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo. The meeting discussed the imperative of collaboration between Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation and the WHO on malaria vaccine implementation, Fumigation, Sanitation, advocacy and environmental management. 

On 27 July 2021, the Minister of Health in a letter addressed to Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation, graciously approved the foundation’s proposal to lead in the roll-out of the RTS,S vaccine in Nigeria when the vaccine is approved by the WHO.

Hon Ned Nwoko has met and briefed the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari concerning the foundation’s malaria eradication project and vaccine development initiative. He also met various relevant ministries and stakeholders in Nigeria for collaboration on the Malaria Project viz; Health, Environment, Science and Technology, Special Duties, FCT, Labour and Employment, Petroleum and Education. The foundation equally met with heads of some strategic departments and agencies such as the NYSC, NOA, ALGON, Governors Forum, etc.

The foundation has initiated the process of having a bill for malaria eradication sponsored and passed at the National Assembly and it has held meetings with the leadership of National Assembly as well as the relevant Chairmen of Senate and House Committees for collaboration (ie Health and Environment).

In September 2021, the PNNF sought and obtained the collaboration of WHO to co-host a virtual sideline event tagged Global Action For a Malaria Free Africa (GAMFA 2021) during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The panel discussion event was moderated from New York by the National Coordinator of the Ned Nwoko Malaria Project, Chukwuebuka Anyaduba. The WHO Representative in Nigeria Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo and Hon Nedc Nwoko delivered keynote speeches, calling on all and sundry to join the fight for a malaria-free Africa. The panelists comprised the following persons: International Malaria Consultant and Former National Coordinator NMEP, Dr. Chioma Amajoh; Professor Wellington Oyibo of College of Medicine University of Lagos; Vice-President of leading Malaria Vaccine Company SANARIA; Peter Billingsley, President Africa Sickle Cell Support Foundation, Mariam Jobe Banjo and Board Member, Malaria Partners International, Jim Moore. The event was aimed at taking the Malaria campaign to a global level.

The recommendations of the panelists, among others include the need for African leaders to rise up to the occasion to fight malaria; reduction of bureaucracy in the malaria intervention processes; greater awareness and enlightenment of the populace to ensure success of the various interventions; more public private partnership to strengthen the various interventions; increased visibility and affordability of the interventions; use of innovative measures to trigger access to commodities and in-country productions and the need for African leaders, global malaria stakeholders, international organisations and other stakeholders to join hands to end malaria in Africa.

It was therefore with excitement and the feeling of a mission realized that the PNNF on 6th October, 2021 received the news of the approval of RTS,S Vaccine by WHO together with its recommendation for use in High Malaria Burden areas of Sub Saharan Africa including Nigeria.

The PNNF which has been in the forefront of this vaccine Programme believes that the malaria partnership in Nigeria must necessarily seize this momentum to be pro-active in ensuring that Nigeria is prioritized and is ready to receive and deploy this vaccine. Based on the approval from the Ministry of Health for the possible support and roll out of the RTSS Vaccine, the foundation has started meetings and consultations with relevant vaccine partners and will share roadmap of implementation soon.

As a Pan-African initiative, the Prince Ned Nwoko malaria eradication project will extend from Nigeria to other African countries, according to its Chairman. Already, Prince Ned Nwoko has met and discussed with Presidents of some African countries like Burkina Faso, Sierra-Leone and Sao Tome and Principe on the project. The PNNF feels fulfilled that the RTS,S Vaccine which it proposed has been approved by the WHO. The foundation has demonstrated its readiness to lead the way in the implementation of the vaccine in Nigeria. It is the foundation’s belief that as a country with the highest malaria burden in the world, a strong local response is imperative to achieve targets set in the National Malaria Strategic Plan (NMSP 2021-2025) that addresses morbidity and mortality burden of malaria. It is a thing of joy that a versatile NGO like the PNNF is is availing its resources and manpower in leading the partners in the implementation of the new malaria vaccine.   *** Nosike Ogbuenyi is an Abuja based public health analyst wrote from Ademola Adetokunbo Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja.


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