Six mobile vaccine-production units developed by German pharmaceutical company BioNTech have arrived in Rwanda. This is the first such shipment to Africa as the continent seeks to boost local production of mRNA vaccines.
The units, made from recycled shipping containers, arrived in the capital Kigali on Monday. Once assembled, they will become a vaccine production hub for jabs against a variety of illnesses.
"This is a historic moment," said BioNTech's chief operating officer Sierk Poetting.
"The technology is scalable. It is also flexible so you can move it anywhere," added Poetting.
The Covid-19 pandemic exposed Africa's huge dependence on imported vaccines.
Less than half of the continent's 1.2 billion people are fully inoculated against Covid-19, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The facility in Kigali -- capable of producing up to 100 million mRNA vaccines per year -- will take at least 12 months before it starts producing doses.
Pioneer for treatments
The containers, dubbed BioNTainers, will also pioneer treatments in the development phase against diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV that are among the leading killers in Africa.
"We are also thinking of cancer therapies that we are developing that could be produced in these BioNTainers," said Poetting.
BioNTech said it had employed nine local scientists, with a plan to increase staffing to at least 100 by next year and eventually have local employees run the facility.
Rwanda will distribute the vaccines to the 55-member African Union bloc.
"This shows the power of science, partnerships and humanity, what people can do to fight a terrifying pandemic," Health Minister Sabin Nsanzimana said.
Rwanda's facility is the first of three slated for Africa with deliveries planned for South Africa and Senegal, according to BioNTech.