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Africa to set up vaccine factories

 Dr Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO, Amref Health Africa, presents during Kigali Health summit. [Mercy Kahenda, Standard]

The stress of sourcing for vaccines and medical supplies during the Covid-19 pandemic revealed major gaps in Africa's healthcare system.

Whereas developed countries revamped vaccinations to create herd immunity, African and other low-income countries struggled to attain 15 per cent, single jab vaccination.

Africa is highly dependent on donors, through Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) facility.

Supply of the doses was however halted following a surge of infections in India.

However, vaccine supply inequity will be a thing of the past with the establishment of vaccine plants in Africa.

Experts and leaders in the continent have resolved to establish a local vaccine manufacturing plant to fight future pandemics.

The manufacture of the vaccines will enable Africa to be self-sufficient and fight diseases, instead of depending on donor supplies.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in partnership with Africa Center for Disease Control (Africa CDC) has mapped out six countries for vaccine manufacture.

The countries identified include Rwanda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Algeria.

South Africa is already manufacturing vaccines.

Dr Adelheid Onyango, WHO Director of Universal Health Coverage, in Africa has said the establishment of manufacturing plants will also guarantee fight against future pandemics.

WHO is working towards improving regulatory capacities for the countries, through Africa Medicines Agency, which was established last year.

The role of the agency is to harmonise the regulatory system for medical products in the African continent, and enable smooth approval processes and improve pharmaceutical production.

"During the Covid-19 pandemic, we realised that depending on other people could not bring instant solutions.

 Participants during a wogging event in Kigali Rwanda, ahead of the Africa Health Agenda International Conference 2023. [Mercy Kahenda, Standard]

WHO is looking at manufacturing capacity of the continent, and several working institutions to improve regulatory capacities," said Dr Onyango.

Shortage ion supply of the vaccines was also coupled with vaccine nationalism, an issue that contributed to deaths, and mutation of Covid-19 virus.

A number of low-income countries were supplied with vaccines, with low shelf-life.

"As time goes by, we need to focus on what the African continent can do in manufacturing of vaccines. This is the capacity which is being built," said Onyango, during the just-concluded health summit in Kigali.

The summit brought together experts in a bid to find solutions for Africa's vaccine supply, and how to handle Covid-19 and future pandemics.

Data by Africa CDC reveals that a total of 973 million doses were administered in Africa, with only 50 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, against WHO's target of 70 per cent.

In Kenya, 23 million people were vaccinated, against 27 million target who were to be vaccinated by June 2022.

Dr Ahmed Ogwell, the Acting Director of Africa CDC said setting up of the plants will prepare Africa for future pandemics.

"Africa CDC is generating interest in countries that would like to manufacture, but do not yet have the facilities," observed Ogwell.

Africa CDC also has plans of establishing diagnostic laboratories, and therapeutic services.

"I am confident that in the next five years, we shall be having a different conversation when it comes to access to vaccines," he said during an interview with The Standard.

He said Africa will be self-sufficient, with surplus sold equitably to other continents.

"When we begin manufacturing vaccines, we shall not do the same as to how the rich countries treated us, but we shall sell to them in a very equitable way," said Ogwell.

 Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. [Mercy Kahenda, Standard]

On her part, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said counties should revamp investment in health, adding that it is a key determinant of socio-economic development for the continent.

During the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, health systems across the globe were strained, schools closed, and travels were restricted.

There were also adverse effects on economy as most businesses were shut down.

"Critical lessons learnt from the pandemic is that health is a determinant of security, economy and education. It is therefore important to invest in health because it can lock out development of any country," said the WHO.

Dr Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO, Amref Health Africa, said the continent should strengthen community health systems in ordre to fight diseases.

He said it is worrying that in Africa, the health system has been set up as "a medical care treatment systems".

"We have not been able to go back to have community based health system, yet we should fight diseases from community level," he added.

He reiterated that health is a fundamental human right, that counties should strive to improve.

"It is only people who are healthy who can go to school and work. When you think of building human capital for any country, you think of health as an enabler of labour, and education," he said.

The resolutions come at a time the general population in Kenya has extremely relaxed the prevention measures, even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) reviewed guidelines to averting the pandemic, following spread of the disease, and new strain of the virus.

In the new guidelines updated on January 13, WHO has asked states to revamp mask wearing, irrespective of the local epidemiological situation.

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