“Africa must put in place resources and measures to ensure it produces its own vaccines for the current crisis and the future,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) said during Africa’s vaccine manufacturing virtual conference on Monday.
During the conference, leaders including African countries’ presidents and those from health and business world noted that producing their own vaccines would lead to the continent’s health and economic security.
Okonjo-Iweala explained that to achieve the goal of vaccine production, different manufacturing centers of excellence should be established in various parts of the continent. “A vaccine needs many components and each doesn’t need to be manufactured at the same place. They can be manufactured in different countries which is why we need to look at and establish centers of excellence on the continent,” she said.
Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) said in countries where vaccines are available, there has been a huge turnaround in their economies. “This is an example Africa needs to emulate by producing its own vaccines so that it does not rely on imports,” she said.
Songwe observed that the continent should not only produce its vaccines but also the entire inputs like syringes, reagents and drugs. “The vaccine value-chain can create six million jobs in Africa. It is not only a discussion about our health, but also our economy and livelihoods,” she said.
According to Songwe, in Africa, there are about 6,000 pharmaceutical value chain players, which are producing healthcare materials. “The continent, therefore, has its own expertise to produce vaccines,” she said.
Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) noted that Africa imports up to 70 percent of pharmaceutical needs while produces only some 1 percent of its vaccines. “We should take this opportunity and turn it around to produce our own vaccines. To achieve public health security, African countries should aspire to boldly produce their own vaccines and drugs,” Adesina said.
He said AfDB is working on a strategy for the pharmaceutical industry, which has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are ready to offer financial support to governments to build at least two vaccine production hubs across Africa. We can also partner with China and India so that they relocate some production work to Africa to work with local manufacturers,” he said.
John Nkengasong, director of Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there is hope in vaccine development in Africa. “Starting September, Algeria would start producing Sputnik V vaccine,” he said. “We have an urgent need for vaccine manufacturing in the continent due to strong demand, vaccine insecurity and emerging infectious disease.”
Nkengasong called on the region to have a continental agenda on vaccines that seeks to reduce reliance on imports, mitigate risks on global vaccine challenges and strengthen vaccine continental research and development capacity.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa observed that the continent’s response to COVID-19 has shown the depth of scientific expertise in the region and has provided an opportunity for unprecedented scientific collaboration. Ramaphosa noted that partners in various countries could offer technological expertise, financing and investment.
“Africa needs to harness its own continental capabilities and identify opportunities for collaboration across several countries of the continent. This means that in the medium-term, we need to expand existing capabilities into regional hubs that serve the continent as a whole,” he said.
According to Ramaphosa, the continent’s leaders have demonstrated the political will to act decisively in the face of the grave threat to health and well-being.
“As we seek to make our own vaccines, our immediate task currently is to secure vaccines for the continent. Through initiatives like the Africa Medical Supplies Platform, the continent has pioneered new ways of ensuring access to vital personal protective equipment as well as diagnostics and therapeutics,” he said.