A critical lesson that Africa has learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is the need to invest in and build its own capacity and capabilities for manufacturing vaccines. It is for this reason that the African Union convened a two-day virtual conference on Monday and Tuesday to discuss expanding Africa's vaccine manufacturing for its health and economic security.
While addressing the conference, themed "Africa's Vaccine Manufacturing for Health Security" on Tuesday, Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa's president and the AU champion for COVID-19 vaccine strategy and acquisition, said not all countries can share equally in the hope of having access to vaccines at the time they need them most.
"Our immediate task therefore is to secure sufficient vaccine doses for African countries through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, which has made valuable progress through its engagements with manufacturers. This effort is supported by other initiatives to manufacture vaccines on the continent, where possible, under license and in collaboration with current manufacturers," Ramaphosa said.
"The vision of a strong African medical supplies and vaccine manufacturing capability that responds effectively to the health needs of the African people is bold and ambitious, but is achievable. From the experience of the past year, I am confident that Africa is closer now than ever before to the fulfilment of this vision," he added.
On his part, Paul Kagame, Rwanda's president, said vaccine equity cannot be guaranteed by goodwill alone. Africa needs to and should be capable of producing its own vaccines and medical products. Kagame said Rwanda commits to working with member states and partners to make vaccine equity a reality.
"In line with our agenda of increasing domestic health financing, it is important for Africa to forge strategic public-private partnerships for vaccine manufacturing on our continent. Vaccine production goes hand-in-hand with increased investments in domestic health systems, as well as building an efficient and autonomous Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which I think is the way we are headed. Rwanda is ready to play a role in this effort, together with other member states and partners," Kagame said.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general of the World Trade Organization, while addressing the conference deplored increasing COVID-19 vaccine nationalism and restrictions placed on exports by producing countries, which she described as a threat to African countries.
"The World Bank estimates each month of delay in vaccine access costs Africa $13.8 billion in lost output. Our WTO data shows that Africa merchandise exports and imports both fell by more than 8 percent in 2020, more than the 5.3 percent of the global average," Okonjo-Iweala said.
The WTO director-general said Africa represents 16 percent of the world's population, but with less than 0.1 percent of global vaccine production. She added this makes the continent vulnerable to export restrictions and has deprived the world of a more diversified vaccine production base.