Africa needs to step up and start producing its own vaccines
African health practitioners have always been at the forefront of some of the world’s biggest health breakthroughs, not just on the continent but abroad as well.
In 1967, a team of South African doctors performed the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant.
In 2017, Ugandan inventor Brian Turyabagye developed a biomedical smart jacket that can diagnose pneumonia four times faster than a doctor.
Fast-forward to 2021, the continent now manages the largest HIV/Aids treatment roll-out programme in the world.
As African countries scramble to secure life-saving vaccines to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, we need to ask why Africa has not developed its own vaccine.
The next wave of Covid-19 is likely to make landfall around May and there is a desperate need for vaccines for all.
In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that Covid-19 vaccines will be a limited resource in 2021. There will be enough for everyone, but distribution will be delayed – a concerning statement.
Yes, the Covax initiative has been set up by the WHO and others to ensure equitable access to vaccines for poorer nations, but Africa cannot depend on this, especially as demand for vaccines will soar over the coming months.
Not many African countries have the means to drop hundreds of millions to secure vaccines, which means we will see more deaths.
Richer nations that have managed to inoculate or are in the process of inoculating their citizens are preparing to return to a new normal, which doesn’t seem like a reality for Africa any time soon.
According to the WHO, Africa represents 14% of the world's population but has less than 0.1% of the world's vaccine production.
If the continent is serious about securing vaccines, it needs to rethink the scale of financial, technical and strategic investment in vaccine production.
In January, South Africa’s Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said that the country has the technical capabilities to produce vaccines with its scientist capacity and infrastructure. The country owns a 47.5% stake in Biovac, a biopharmaceutical company capable of manufacturing vaccines.
According to a University of Cape Town report, only if investment is increased, sustained and backed by political commitment, will the country have sufficient vaccine production capacity to use as a lever to gain national and regional access to future vaccines.
According to the Conversation, generally, vaccines are produced by private companies, which sell them under contract. In some cases, producers will make provisions for access in particular markets.
The African Union established the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team last year to source vaccines for the continent.
Surely, there should have been teams on the ground looking to develop and create their own vaccines so that Africa would not have to wait for handouts from the international community.
Sadly, Africa is being left behind due to the sluggish pace of its leaders in investing in vaccine production for future health crises.
* Read more in the special Insider supplement, which can be found in the Sunday Independent, Sunday Tribune and Weekend Argus newspapers today.
African News Agency