Why COVID-19 could mean a new dawn for Nigeria's manufacturing sector

A medical health worker helps his colleague to wear his PPE during a community testing, as authorities race to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Abuja, Nigeria April 15, 2020

Nigeria's manufacturers can meet the country's growing demand for PPE and medical equipment Image: REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Yinka Olatunbosun
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  • COVID-19 cases are rising in Nigeria, and the pandemic's economic impacts are worsening too.
  • In response, the government is working with the country's manufacturing sector to produce PPE and medical equipment.
  • This could represent a significant growth opportunity for Nigeria's manufacturers.

Some early reports in the media on the COVID-19 pandemic were a cause for alarm. China, a leading manufacturing nation, was running out of personal protective equipment (PPE) following the unprecedented outbreak, including medical aprons, gowns and coveralls as well as gloves, masks, respirators and goggles.

China's economy suffered, too, and that became the story of many countries around the world once the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID-19 had become a pandemic. To date the disease has killed more than 745,000 people across the world, with more than 20.5 million people infected.

In Nigeria, many watched news about the COVID-19 outbreak like detached movie audiences – until the nation recorded its first case on 27 February. Still, reality did not kick in until cases began to climb in the weeks afterwards, forcing the Nigerian government at the state and national levels to impose lockdowns from the end of March. The impact of these measures was more pernicious than anticipated. Many business owners are licking their wounds following the month-long lockdown, with inevitable courses of action such as cutting down their workforces, work hours, budgets and salaries. Businesses that pose a high risk of COVID-19 infections remain grounded as their owners strategize new business models and modes of engagement.

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Looking at the bigger picture, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the global oil economy. Oil accounts for around 10% of Nigeria’s GDP; the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia has sent shocks to the Nigerian economy as oil sold below the $30-per-barrel mark. A Nigerian-based market research organisation, SBM Intelligence, has also published a list of industries that will be positively and negatively impacted by the pandemic, as part of a series of discussions about the impact of COVID-19 on the Nigerian economy.

Burdened by the pandemic's negative impacts, the Nigerian government has engaged with the private sector to chart a path towards solutions. Despite its gloomy side, the pandemic offers a unique opportunity for local manufacturers in Nigeria to rise to the challenge of inadequate PPE supplies.

The shortage of PPE caused by rising demand, panic buying, hoarding and misuse has endangered many health workers worldwide. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the prices of protective gadgets have surged, prompting WHO to call on industry and governments to increase manufacturing by 40% to meet rising global demand. Based on WHO modelling, an estimated 89 million medical masks are required for the COVID-19 response each month. For examination gloves, that figure goes up to 76 million, while international demand for goggles stands at 1.6 million per month.

Initially, Nigeria received PPE from WHO and China. But the current statistics demand proactive measures in boosting the production of PPE locally. A ray of hope came when the Nigerian military said it has successfully produced a ventilator using locally sourced components, and has also begun mass production of PPE kits.

The state-run Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON), which is responsible for producing defence equipment and civilian products, has been granted approval by the Federal Government to produce thousands of high-quality non-permeable PPE kits. Each unit consists of standardized gowns, face shields and masks to be sold at affordable rates. He said the PPEs are currently being produced in large quantities for use by Kaduna State Government and other national stakeholders. In addition, DICON engineers, consultants and medical teams have successfully produced a digital mechanical ventilator known as DICOVENT.

According to John Enenche, who leads Nigeria's Directorate of Defence Media Operations, the newly designed low-cost machine is a simple mechanical ventilator that can deliver positive-pressured ventilation using a volume-controlled ventilation system.

“The ventilator has undergone thorough scrutiny and assessment by specialists from top ranging hospitals and experts in the country including Cedar Crest Hospital Abuja, 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital Kaduna, amongst others,” Enenche has said.

“It can also be used for invasive ventilation and non-invasive ventilation using an endotracheal tube and mask respectively," he added.

Victor Ezugwu, the director-general of DICON, has given assurances that the industry has the capacity to produce thousands of these PPE kits within a short period and at least 100 ventilators per month. He disclosed that DICON will consider exporting the products after adequately satisfying Nigeria's national demand. In the same vein, Nigeria's Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin, has urged federal and state governments to patronise the local content initiative of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.

Total confirmed coronavirus cases in Nigeria
Total confirmed coronavirus cases in Nigeria Image: Worldometer

For tailors in Aba, the commercial centre of Abia State, COVID-19 has brought a resurgence of trade in local fabrics such as cotton and polypropylene in order to manufacture PPE. With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Nigeria, the Abia state government released a NGN12 million ($31,000) grant to support tailors to make protective gear. The grant was disbursed to 100 selected tailors in early April to help them buy additional equipment, source materials and employ more people. According to Sam Hart, the director-general of the Abia State Marketing and Quality Management Agency, tailors in Aba have to-date produced more than 200,000 face masks and 3,000 overalls.

Adding to this momentum is the partnership between two Nigerian firms to manufacture PPE. The firms, Xirea Apparel and Buphalo Active Gear, recently announced their collaboration to boost local capacity for manufacturing PPE. Both firms have ramped up production of disposable coveralls, medical scrubs and caps, surgical masks and other miscellaneous garments.

Buphalo’s certified disposable coveralls and other items are manufactured in Xirea’s factory located at Trans Amadi in Port Harcourt in Rivers state, according to a report in a Nigerian newspaper.

“Xirea Apparels has retrofitted and dedicated four production lines to manufacture PPE,” said the firm's Obinna Eneh. The company has converted all its production lines to produce disposable coveralls designed by Buphalo. “Its daily production capacity is between 2,000 to 5,000 coveralls. It can also produce 2,000 scrubs/caps and 10,000 masks daily,” Eneh added.

The Standards Organization of Nigeria has also recently inspected a NGN100 million ($260,000) facility in Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos which has been partly converted towards producing PPE. It is indeed a new dawn for Nigeria's manufacturing sector.

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