Africa needs to overcome hurdles and make own vaccines, experts say
Africa needs to make its own vaccines to avoid a repeat of its supply problems in the COVID-19 pandemic, experts said on Tuesday.
The Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) said the continent faces big obstacles in turning itself from a pharmaceutical testing ground into a place where vaccines are created.
PAVM has set as a target that 60% of the continent's routine vaccine needs, or between 1.4 and 1.7 billion doses yearly, should be met by local manufacturing by 2040, up from about 1% now.
Experts meeting at a PAVM conference in Rwanda said the pandemic had shown Africa urgently needed to tackle its dependence on imported vaccines. But they outlined daunting obstacles, from brain drain to power shortages.
Martin Friede, coordinator of the World Health Organisation Initiative for Vaccine Research, said Africa had produced many scientific researchers but not a workforce capable of designing and making vaccines.
He urged the continent's political and scientific leaders to focus on changing that skillset, drawing a contrast with Africa's customary role in pharmaceuticals.
"Right now Africa is a test tube for many pharmaceutical companies. This is where we bring products to test them," he said.
Charles Gore, head of the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool which seeks to boost drugmaking in developing countries, said seeking licences from pharmaceutical firms elsewhere was not a sustainable solution for Africa as it had few incentives to offer those firms.
"Simply having the development done in the developed world and always transferring it is not an answer to this," he said.
Speakers from large drugmakers and from bodies that provide funding stressed the high costs of research, development and production, urging African countries to pool demand in order to incentivise investors with scale and long-term visibility.
The PAVM, which is backed by the African Union and brings together experts from across the continent, is working on a wide-ranging strategy to address the various challenges.
The Botswana scientist who may well have discovered the omicron variant of the coronavirus says he has been on a rollercoaster of emotions, with the pride of accomplishment followed by dismay over the travel bans immediately slapped on southern African countries.
African leaders have condemned the travel bans imposed over the Omicron coronavirus variant, accusing wealthy countries of being hypocrites for delivering new restrictions instead of the vaccine doses to the continent.