Harare – The World Health Organisation says Africa has the capacity to produce its own coronavirus vaccines, if there is adequate political will and infrastructure investment.
At an Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) high-level panel discussion this week, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) Director Dr John Nkengasong said the continent could make its own vaccines.
“We know that vaccines are the fundamental underpinning of the health security on the continent and we have to invest in that,” Dr Nkengasong said, adding: “If we do not do this we will move towards the endemicity of this virus on the continent and will have devastating effects going forward.”
Afreximbank President Mr Benedict Oramah said Africa had no choice but to invest in developing its own vaccines.
Drawing lessons from West Africa’s experience of dealing with Ebola, Sierra Leone’s Planning and Economic Development Minister Francis Kaikai noted the importance of rolling out vaccines early and planning for the long haul.
“There has been some reticence in the acceptance of the vaccines. We need to do public education campaigns to deal with misinformation and disinformation especially in rural areas,” Minister Kaikai urged.
But World Health Organisation Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned that vaccines alone would not end the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No country can vaccinate its way out of the pandemic not even the wealthy ones,” Dr Ghebreyesus said. “Even with the vaccines, we still have a long road ahead.”
Citing World Bank figures, Dr Ghebreyesus also said for every month that vaccines were delayed in reaching Africa, US$13.8 billion was lost in GDP.
“The fastest way to get economies on track is vaccine equity. Ultimately Africa needs to be able to meet its own needs for vaccines and other essential products. That means financing local manufacturing capacity, comprehensive regulation and sustainable supply chains,” he said.
Dr Ghebreyesus urged pharmaceutical companies to share intellectual property rights, data and know-how in the manufacture of vaccines with Africa.
Africa, home to 26 percent of the world’s population, accounts for less than 0,1 percent of global vaccine production.
“Ultimately the lesson we can learn from this pandemic is that health is not a luxury but a fundamental human right and the foundation of social and political stability,” Dr Ghebreyesus added.
He called on AU members to ratify the African Medicines Agency Treaty to promote manufacturing medical products on the continent, as well as to support a proposal by South Africa and India for an intellectual property rights waiver at the World Trade Organisation.