ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
African leaders and international and regional partners are holding a two-day conference to discuss manufacturing and supply of COVID-19 vaccines across the continent.
President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Felix Tshisekedi, who is the current chairman of the African Union for 2021, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Rwanda President Paul Kagame, and Senegal President Macky Sall are attending the two-day conference starting on Monday.
African Union Commission head Moussa Faki Mahamat, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom, African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina, and the World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala are also participating in the conference.
In his welcome address at the virtual conference, Mahamat called for what he described as “a strategic partnership for a new health world order” in view of enabling the continent to be able to meet most of its need for pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines.
It was vital, he said, to ensure the “acceleration of Africa’s participation in clinical development of vaccines” – a point of shortcoming the COVID-19 pandemic exposed.
“There are obstacles in distribution of vaccines,” he said, adding the COVAX facility that aims at ensuring vaccine equity in favor of developing countries would be able to meet 20% of the continent’s needs.
The Rwandan president said: “Vaccine equity cannot be guaranteed by goodwill alone.”
“Africa needs to expand production of vaccines….,” Kagame said. “We should move from what we know has not worked for us to what we can do.”
According to him, the African Continental Free Trade Area – a trading regime that provides for $3.4 billion trade in a market of 1.2 billion people – should make investment in vaccine development and manufacturing in Africa “even more attractive”.
South Africa’s Ramaphosa, for his part, said as millions were being vaccinated currently, “the challenge we are facing is that supply is too slow to meet our needs.”
Tshisekedi also highlighted the need for partnerships that should be in line with African priorities.
Adhanom of the UN health body said there remained a shocking imbalance in distribution of and access to the COVID-19 vaccines. “This is why building capacity for vaccine development is so important.”
“The vaccine market could create 60 million jobs,” Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa said.
“The whole vaccine supply chains such as syringes, gloves et cetera should also be produced in Africa,” she added.