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Home / Health & Science

Africa still at the bottom of Covid vaccine value chain

By JOSEA RONO AND MICHAEL NDICHU | Mon,Jun 28 2021 05:00:00 EAT


The covid-19 vaccine provides the means to spur economic growth. [Courtesy]

The dawn of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a health crisis and an economic recession all over the world. Of the 170 million confirmed cases reported to date, the highest-burden resides in America, which accounts for 40 per cent, while Africa boasts of a mere 2 per cent. Following the restrictive policies to contain the spread of the virus, the world economy shrunk by 4.3 per cent in 2020 with Africa’s economy shrinking by three per cent over the same period.

The Covid-19 vaccine provides the means to spur economic growth and help manage the global health pandemic. More than 2 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally. Of this, Africa has received about 1 per cent of the global supply, vaccinating a mere 1.7 per cent of its population, compared to North America that has vaccinated 54 per cent of its population.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that delayed access to vaccines in Africa could lead to a “catastrophic moral failure”, as the virus could mutate into strains that existing vaccines do not protect against.

Covid 19 Time Series


The uneven distribution of manufacturing and financing capabilities globally has led to the unequal distribution to Covid-19 vaccines. African countries are largely reliant on external suppliers and donor institutions to obtain subsidised Covid-19 vaccines.

The huge spike in cases in India has affected Africa’s access to the Covid-19 vaccines. This is why the African Union (AU) and the World Bank have set aside finances to help Africa expand their vaccine pools and strengthen national health systems.

In regards to manufacturing, Africa has less than 1 per cent of the world’s vaccine production. Only seven African countries have companies operating across the vaccine-manufacturing value chain, and of these, only one – Senegal – exports a WHO pre-qualified vaccine; most do not export at all. Most local pharmaceutical companies in Africa engage in packaging and labelling and occasionally fill and finish steps.

Some of the challenges facing vaccine manufacturing in Africa include the lack of technical capacity, struggles to obtain financing and low demand for vaccines in Africa. High production costs in Africa forced pharmaceutical manufacturing companies to look elsewhere for alternative markets to set up their factories with most shifting to India and Bangladesh. Poor regulations and challenges in implementing quality assurance greatly undermine investments in vaccine manufacturing in Africa.

Covid-19 presents the best opportunity for African countries to enhance their manufacturing opportunities to drive vaccine production and exportation.

Towards that end, African leaders have convened meetings to discuss ways to improve financing and manufacturing of vaccines across and most should provide tax breaks to encourage global manufacturers to set up vaccine manufacturing bases in Africa. This would help them to offset their high Research and Development and operational costs, which would in turn further Africa’s vaccine production capacity.

To promote the development of vaccine manufacturing capacity, African governments and partners need to source for locally produced drugs as a priority for state-run hospitals and government agencies. African government could enter into long-term purchase agreements with these vaccine manufacturing plants to increase the demand for vaccines furthering investments in production to eliminate demand uncertainties.

This shift in focus on local capacity can be implemented in the current fight against Covid-19 pandemic as some of the local pharmaceutical manufacturing companies are able to quickly shift and participate in some aspects of Covid-19 vaccine formulation, such as filling and packaging.

Some of the local pharmaceutical manufacturing companies have been licensed by WHO to develop syringes for administering Covid jabs, and recent calls to uplift Covid-19 patent rights could help enhance the vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa besides allowing for technology and skill transfer to Africa companies.

The announcement of Johnson & Johnson vaccine production in South Africa is a first that will be followed with more collaboration. And this inclusion of global players will encourage governments to have better regulations on vaccine manufacturing leading to improvements in quality controls and encourage exports from Africa.

Investment in Africa’s vaccine production will not only help in the current fight against Covid-19, but also better prepare the continent in fighting against future pandemics.   

Dr Josea Rono is the Managing

Partner at E&K Consulting and Michael Ndichu is an Associate

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