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The task before Dr Khaliru Alhassan

I couldn’t write the article during the subsequent week because I talked on Measles. I am glad I waited till this week because last week…

I couldn’t write the article during the subsequent week because I talked on Measles. I am glad I waited till this week because last week the Minister of State for Health refuted a claim as captured in the audited report by GAVI which observed that funds meant for immunisation were misused by the Nigerian government.
In summary, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) Cash Program Audit (CPA) 2011-2013 Report had observed that the Government of Nigeria has received vaccine and cash-based support from GAVI Alliance since 2002. As at 31 March 2014, a total amount of US$165m had been disbursed for vaccines and US$143.5m for cash support through a number of mechanisms including: Health Systems Strengthening (HSS), Immunisation System Support (ISS), operational costs for vaccine campaigns (Measles SIA, Meningitis, and Yellow Fever) and Vaccine Introduction Grants (VIG).  
The audit identified fundamental weaknesses in controls around procurement. In line with the audit report, GAVI seeks re-imbursement of US$2.2m from the GoN. This represents expenditure which is classified as irregular and/or ineligible, and is regarded as misused.
It was that report above that the Minister of State for Health Dr Khaliru Alhassan refuted which was made available to the media last week as follows; “The Supervising Minister of Health, and Minister of State for Health Dr. Khaliru Alhassan, has described media reports on alleged misuse of a $ 2.2 Million U.S dollars of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) funds by the Ministry of Health and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) as misleading and inaccurate.
“This was contained in a press release signed by Mrs. A. O Adesuwa, the Director Media and Public Relations and made available to Health Reporters yesterday.”
The release quoted the minister as accusing GAVI of indicting the Federal Ministry of Health, after they had signed a memorandum of understanding to improve the working relationship between them.
Part of the release said “the attention of the Supervising Minister and Minister of State for Health, Dr. Khaliru Alhassan, has been drawn to misleading and inaccurate reports published in some sections of the media on the purported “indictment” of Nigeria by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) for “alleged misuse of vaccine funds for program activities under the National Primary Health Care Development Agency NPHCDA.”
It also maintained that the media publications were based on an incomplete and unilateral report of the Cash Program Audit (CPA) commissioned by GAVI, which did not contain Nigeria’s response, as is the custom in bilateral and multilateral relationships.
Additionally, the report implied that Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization has withdrawn its cash program support to Nigeria. The statement quoted Alhassan as saying, “it must be stated clearly that nothing could be further from the truth as GAVI and Nigeria, represented by the Federal Ministry of Health, signed a letter of understanding on 17 October, 2014, aimed at further improving the working relationship between the two parties for support in systems strengthening, in order to enhance transparency and accountability.”
The ministry in the statement said it is committed to ensuring that immunization activities are carried out effectively and transparently as buttressed by Nigeria’s success and commendation by WHO, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Board for the Monitoring of Polio (IMB), in curtailing the occurrence of the Wild Polio Virus in Nigeria.
In between the time the GAVI audit report was published and the time the minister refuted the claim last week, I found myself in the crossfire while trying to have a better understanding of the whole issue and what would be the best suggestion to give Nigerian government not just as a columnist and an online newspaper publisher but as a member of the civil society group that has being involved for more than a decade in advocating for a better health sector.
My meetings of Friday 7th November 2014 with the Executive Director of National Primary Health Care Development Agency  Dr Ado Muhammad and later on with the  Minister of State for Health Dr Khaliru Alhassan centred on ‘what next’ now that the audited report was made available and read by many Nigerians and the international community.
No matter what side one identifies with, it is imperative that as a nation we must strengthen our oversight and accountability mechanisms not only for immunisation but other relevant Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Programmes.
This is the task expected to be led by the Minister of State for Health Dr Khaliru Alhassan.
It is desired of him to support the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and other federal health agencies to strengthen their accountability mechanisms in line with our earlier recommendations last year for the NPHCDA and the Federal Ministry of Health to work with civil society organisations and media to convene a quarterly interactive accountability forum.
It would be used to review performance, monitoring on various commitments, projects and activities in line with government’s policies and initiatives and international best practices. Anything short of that will not augur well for Nigeria and will not boost our local and international image. I wish the minister the best in this onerous task.
Dr Aminu Magashi is the publisher of Health Reporters ([email protected])