COVID-19 renews Africa’s vigor to manufacture its own vaccines

One of the key lessons Africa has learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that it is high time for the continent to manufacture its own vaccines. Vaccines are the first line defense to prevent tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and certain types of pneumonia and diarrhoea, especially for Africa which bears the highest global burden of disease.

Yet despite making up 14% of the world’s population, Africa accounts for less than 1% of global vaccine production, according to the World Health Organization. A most glaring feature of the global vaccine industry is the dominance of a few Western-based multinational pharmaceutical corporations that control the estimated US$35 billion drug and vaccine production and sales business. The consequence is that parts of the world such as Africa remain totally dependent on vaccine imports and donations to meet their health care needs.

Unsurprisingly, emerging trends in the COVID-19 pandemic show that wealthier countries with the capacity to manufacture vaccines have been able to vaccinate more of their population. On the other hand, regions like Africa that lack the capacity to produce vaccines also have low vaccination rates.

Africa’s most immediate priority response to COVID-19 is to ensure the predictability of vaccine deliveries and make injections accessible to communities where they are needed.

However, the latest data shows that less than 11% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have been fully immunized. By contrast, nearly 72% of high-income countries have been fully vaccinated, and wealthier countries are now distributing boosters and stockpiling vaccines for future use.

Without a predictable and reliable supply of COVID-19 vaccines, African countries are often forced to react at short notice to accept doses, often with limited shelf lives, significantly complicating delivery logistics for already stretched health systems. . This unethical and unfair treatment of the distribution and access to COVID-19 vaccines has renewed calls from world leaders and health experts to break the cycle of reliance on a highly concentrated global vaccine market.

“How can a continent of 1.2 billion people – which is expected to reach 2.4 billion in 30 years, where one in four people in the world will be African – can continue to import 99% of its vaccines?” asks Dr. John Nkengasong, Head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa agrees: “We simply cannot continue to rely on vaccines made outside of Africa because they never come. From Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari stresses that Africa must partner with research and build vaccine production and manufacturing capacity to prepare for future health emergencies.

On global platforms, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva is pushing for robust and reliable vaccine capacity in Africa to be seen as a global public good, and therefore deserving of global support.

Vaccine manufacturing is undoubtedly a sophisticated and capital-intensive business that requires specialized equipment, inputs, storage facilities and skilled labor. It also requires heavy investment for continuous research and development.

But these factors have not deterred some African countries from making local vaccine production a reality. There are already 12 COVID-19 vaccine production facilities in operation or in preparation in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa.

Nigeria is negotiating with the World Bank and other lenders to raise around US$30 million to help fund a vaccine factory, while Ivory Coast, Ghana and Kenya have expressed interest in the manufacture of vaccines and other drugs.

In response to calls from health and economic experts to build local vaccine manufacturing capacity, the African Union last year launched the Partnership for Vaccine Manufacturing in Africa.

The AU has also signed an agreement with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to increase investment in vaccine research and development, training of experts and building new partnerships. In addition, the African Export-Import Bank and the African Finance Corporation are cooperating to mobilize funding and advisory support for vaccine manufacturing.

What Africa now urgently needs to establish a sustainable vaccine manufacturing ecosystem on the continent is strong political will, enhanced coordination across the continent and the removal of trade barriers across borders. . These priority actions are essential if Africa hopes to achieve its ambition of producing 60% of essential vaccines locally by 2040.

Achonu is the Country Director of ONE Campaign

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