Africa: Director-General's Opening Remarks for Panel "Is Africa Ready to Finance Its Own Vaccine?"

press release

Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. Economic Commission for Africa.

Your Excellency, Jose Sele Yalaghuli, Minister of Finance for the Democratic Republic of the Congo,

Your Excellency, Francis Kaikai, Minister of Development and Economic Planning for Sierra Leone,

John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa CDC,

Benedict Oramah, President of Afreximbank,

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS,

Your Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

My thanks to the Economic Commission for Africa for inviting me to share some thoughts with you today.

Your discussions have shown that health is ultimately a political choice.

The development of vaccines against the COVID-19 virus in record time has given the world reason for hope. But it must be hope for all, not only for some.

As I have said before, no one is safe until we are all safe. That is not a slogan, but a hard reality. As long as the virus keeps circulating widely, it will mutate.

The only way to keep this from happening is to distribute vaccines equitably to all countries.

No country can vaccinate its way out of the pandemic, not even wealthy ones.

The most effective and strategic way to suppress transmission and save lives globally is by vaccinating health workers and the most vulnerable people in all countries, rather than the entire populations of just a few countries.

But even with the vaccines, we still have a long road ahead.

Intense transmission is ongoing and is putting enormous pressure on health systems, societies and economies.

Disparities in coverage will only further slow global and regional recoveries.

Trade, travel and tourism have all been disrupted by the pandemic.

That hurts industry, businesses large and small, and those who work in the informal economy.

According to the World Bank, for every month that vaccines are delayed in reaching the African continent, 13.8 billion US dollars are lost in GDP.

The fastest way to get our societies and economies back on track is vaccine equity.

We've seen how African countries that rely on imports are particularly vulnerable to timely access to essential health products during the pandemic.

Ultimately, Africa needs to be able to meet its own needs for vaccines and other essential health products.

That means financing, local manufacturing capacity, comprehensive regulation, and sustainable supply chains.

Much of this is already being discussed and planned for, such as at today's meeting, and I'll go into detail about that in a bit.

First, I wanted to briefly lay out the efforts we are making to bridge the gap in vaccine equity in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, at the beginning of the crisis, we formed a broad international coalition to launch the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, including the COVAX vaccines pillar.

It has two aims: to develop vaccines, medicines, and diagnostics fast, and distribute them fairly.

We have made great progress on the first, and now we are tackling the second.

We now have vaccines, but production badly needs to be scaled up.

To overcome this bottleneck, companies should share intellectual property, know-how, and data with other qualified vaccine manufacturers, including in Africa.

Some sharing has begun, as we have seen with Johnson & Johnson and Aspen in South Africa.

But that sharing so far has been predicated on exclusive agreements and individual company prerogatives, not public health.

Conditions are still restrictive and do not allow wide scale up, in particular for low and middle-income countries.

WHO has also established the COVID Technology Access Pool, known as C-TAP, to accelerate the development and manufacturing of products needed to fight COVID-19, including vaccines, and remove barriers to accessing these products.

The fact is, we are not taking advantage of existing manufacturing capacity.

Many countries already have this capacity and can start producing their own vaccines if intellectual property rights are waived under the TRIPS Agreement, as proposed by South Africa and India to the World Trade Organization.

WHO welcomes this proposal.

The TRIPS Agreement was designed to allow for flexibility on intellectual property rights in the case of emergencies. Now is the time to use this emergency provision.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the critical gap in vaccine manufacturing in Africa as a whole.

While Africa represents 16% of the world's population, it represents less than 0.1% in the world's vaccine production.

It is important to note that vaccine manufacturing can be done in a stepwise approach, not waiting for full manufacturing capacity, but starting with fill-and-finish initiatives.

The example of South Africa shows that existing facilities can be repurposed to expand capacity for full-scale production.

Increasing local production capacities in Africa could improve equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and over the long-term, and expand global manufacturing capacity.

Strengthening local capacity to produce safe, effective and affordable products requires a strategic, holistic approach to business, regulatory and technical issues.

Government commitment and sustainable financing are key to success.

Of course, making any of this work requires local expertise in research and development, vaccine production, quality assurance, and clinical development.

Training is essential, and this is one area where international partners can help.

WHO organized the first Virtual Training Marathon on Current Good Manufacturing Practice last year.

About 40 African countries registered for this training marathon and over 1000 manufacturers, regulators, government institutions and other stakeholders attended each week.

Regional initiatives are already bearing fruit.

I commend the African Union's vaccine readiness work through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, under the leadership of His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa.

WHO is also working with the African Union to establish the African Medicines Agency.

The AMA will give the region the ability to regulate medical products, enhance regulatory oversight and facilitate access to safe, efficacious and affordable medical products across the continent.

I call on all African countries to ratify the treaty so that AMA can enter into force.

We need no additional proof of the importance and urgency for the AMA than the present crisis, which has again reinforced the need for equitable access to vaccines and therapeutics.

WHO also works with the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, which works with the private sector and academic institutions to create an enabling environment for vaccine manufacturing with the participation of twelve African countries

Excellencies,

I would like to leave you with three requests, which are essential for supporting the research, development and production of home-grown vaccines in Africa.

First, we urge you to support the proposal by South Africa and India for intellectual property waivers at the World Trade Organization.

Second, we urge you to ratify the treaty for the Africa Medicines Agency.

And third, we urge you to invest in local manufacturing.

Ultimately, the lesson we must learn from this pandemic is that health is not a luxury, it is a fundamental human right, and the foundation of social, economic and political stability.

Thank you once again, and I look forward to a productive discussion.

I thank you.

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