A large chunk of e-cards printed by the federal Government to boost immunization of citizens under the Yellow Fever Virus (YFV) vaccination program and valued at over N200 million have been stolen from the Department of Public Health, Federal Ministry of Health in Abuja, the Progressive Impact Organization for Community Development, PRIMORG, a civil society organization working in the areas of accountability and anti-corruption has reported.
The unauthorized yellow cards were being sold illegally by touts to travelers without actual immunization, and with the funds going into private pockets.
A PRIMORG undercover, was able to buy the unauthorized card on the street in Abuja for N5,000.
In February this year, the Federal government approved the new electronic yellow card for travelers to eliminate the incidents of forgery and sales of fake cards at airports and other designated locations where the yellow cards are demanded from travelers.
PRIMORG was reliably informed that following the approval, the Federal Ministry of Health printed one million e-cards in two batches of 500,000 copies in A and B categories. The new e-card was introduced in April 2019.
A comprehensive investigation carried out by PRIMORG has shown that the unauthorized yellow cards on sale in the open markets by touts, including near the VSF offices in Central Area in Abuja are part of the stolen cards from the batch B category printed by the Federal Ministry of Health.
A senior official of the Federal Ministry of Health is currently on suspension over the theft of the cards that is normally issued after citizens have been immunized at the payment of N2500 at designated clinics and Port Health Services centers across Nigeria.
While officials from the Port Health Services Unit of the Department of Public Health were busy giving out the genuine and authorized cards to citizens from batch A after an immunization procedure, some unscrupulous staff stole a chunk of the cards from batch B and began sales of it in the open market to travelers who do not go through the process of vaccination.
We gathered that the Ports Services Unit has not exhausted the yellow cards in the Batch A category. But the containers housing batch B were violated and bulks of them stolen by some of the health officials who were mandated to keep them safely.
THE YELLOW CARDS FRAUD IN KANO
In Kano, another official has been removed from the issuing desk of the Port Health Services unit for selling yellow card without the required vaccination and for his inability to account for over 11,000 yellow cards worth N22 million. The cards were allegedly sold and issued indiscriminately without the administration of the required yellow fever vaccines and the proceeds unremitted to government.
The cards were believed to have been sold mainly at Hajj camps, at the point of departure to travelers who did not take the vaccines.
The incident in Kano has not been properly investigated as some of the indicted officials have tapped on high level connections in government to silence the senior Ministry officials in Abuja to achieve a cover up.
Nigeria has a high risk of YFV transmission due to the environment and prevalence of mosquitoes. A traveler cannot come into Nigeria or get into some countries from Nigeria unless issued with a valid YFV certificate and must have been vaccinated at least 10 days before the departure date.
The yellow cards are supposed to be proof of vaccination but because the unauthorized cards are now freely sold on the streets and many ports of entry, travelers now get them illegally without the required immunization.
Health officials say the incident is of grave consequences to the health of the nation and may be responsible for the current spread of yellow fever in parts of the country.
Besides, top health officials are worried that since Nigeria is an endemic country, the use of these unauthorized cards by travelers without vaccination place other countries at risk and it is a clear violation of the WHO recommendations that travelers show the yellow cards as proof of vaccination at both ports of departure and entry in certain countries.
Vaccination is recommended for travelers aged 9 and above, and the current vaccines last for a lifetime when administered.
Some states in Northern Nigeria including Kano and Bauchi are currently battling with frequent outbreaks of yellow fever.
Medical experts also warned of grave health hazards and consequences of Nigerians traveling to endemic countries without immunization but with unauthorized or fake cards. It is suspected that this category of Nigerians can come back home with infections from those countries
A PRIMORG official posed as a potential visa applicant in need of documents at the open space near the VFS offices in central area where many of the visa processing offices of many Embassies and High Commissions are located.
The touts, many in their numbers surged forward to ask what our correspondent wanted, ranging from photocopies, photographs, visa forms to yellow cards.
“We have authentic yellow cards sir”, one of the touts, a lady offered.
“How much” our official queried.
“It’s N6,000 Oga”, she said
“Why is it that expensive. Can I pay less?” PRIMORG staff pleaded.
Its N5,000 last Sir”. She said with a tone of finality.
When she got the nod to get the card, the young lady proceeded to a nearby open space with several kiosks and five minutes later she came back with a copy of yellow card marked B947006 bearing the Nigerian coat of arms and a bar or scan code to verify the card’s authenticity.
She proceeded to fill in the details, including the names, the passport number and the dates into the yellow card.
The medical detail in the card was pre-filled, indicating the type and milligram, the date and the official stamps of the “PORT HEALTH OFFICE, FMOH NIGERIA”
PRIMORG staff was able to buy one of the stolen cards on the street for N5000 from a tout in the full glare of the public.
The tout told our staff that the yellow cards were supplied from the FMH and that they were genuine cards.
AT THE FEDERAL MINISTRY OF HEALTH
Our Staff proceeded to the yellow fever vaccine clinic at the Federal Ministry of Health Headquarters at the Federal Secretariat, Three Arms Zone, Abuja to observe the process of vaccination and to compare the cards issued by the officials.
Our staff presented the card bought on the street to the first desk officer manning a desk on the corridor, and who immediately confirmed that the card was genuine but unauthorized.
He took it in for scanning and reported back that its issuance was not in the database of the Ministry.
Our staff followed the vaccination process at the clinic, paying the required N2,500 and got administered with the required dosage of the yellow fever vaccine before he was issued with the yellow card marked A467772.
A health official who will not want to be named confirmed that the Ministry of Health has been working with the police to recover as many cards as possible.
PRIMORG gathered that recently, six touts selling the cards were arrested by the police but not much was achieved in the recovery. The suspects were granted bail by the courts and are probably back to the business of selling the unauthorized cards.
PRIMORG took the investigations further to know how much the federal Government may be losing as a result of the stolen cards that are on sale.
The Federal Government printed the e-cards at a premium cost to guarantee its security, and its cost is recoverable from the sale of the vaccines.
The sale of the One million cards printed under the e-card regime would have fetched the Federal Government over N1.2 billion at N2,500 per vaccination.
Very reliable officials confided that over N100 million worth of the cards were stolen, adding that a chief Health Officer in the department was indicted for the disappearance of tens of thousands of authentic e-cards in the batch B category.
The Ministry of Health is yet to carry out a comprehensive audit of the cards to ascertain the actual number of the missing cards.
Some top officials of the Ministry of Health allege that there is a big cover up because of the political connections of the staff involved in the disappearance of the yellow cards in Abuja and Kano.
Senior Officials concerned with the implementation of the YFV program in Abuja declined to comment on the matter, insisting that they are not authorized to speak.