One of Africa’s important lessons during the pandemic of COVID-19 is not to depend on other nations and produce and manufacture your own vaccines, and this is high time to do this.
Vaccines are the first line of defence against tuberculosis, polio, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B, and some types of pneumonia and diarrhoea, particularly in Africa, which has the highest global disease burden.
According to the World Health organisation (WHO), despite accounting for 14 percent of the population globally, Africa accounts for less than 1% of global vaccine production.
The most visible feature of the global vaccine industry is the dominance of a few western-based multinational pharmaceutical firms that control the estimated 35 million dollars in businesses producing and selling medicines and vaccines.
The result of this is that some world regions such as Africa remain totally reliable on the imports of vaccines from other nations and donations to address their health care needs.
The emerging trends from the COVID-19 pandemic show that the wealthiest country has a good capacity to vaccinate a larger proportion of its population. On the other hand, world regions with no capacity to produce vaccines, such as Africa, have low vaccine rates.
The most pressing priority for Africa in the fight against Covid-19 is to ensure predictability in vaccine deliveries and make vaccines available in communities where needed.
Without expecting and waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine supplies, nations forced Africa to react at short notice that they accepted doses frequently with limited shelf lives, greatly complicating delivery logistics for already-stretched health systems.
This kind of unethical and unfair treatment on distribution and access to COVID-19 vaccines has resumed calls from global leaders and some health experts that they really need to break the cycle of dependency on a highly concentrated global vaccine market.
“How can a continent of 1.2 billion people—which is expected to grow to 2.4 billion in 30 years, with one in every four people in the world being African—continue to import 99 percent of its vaccines?” asks Dr John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Furthermore, they stated that vaccines manufacturing is not an easy project; in this project, more capital is needed with an intensive enterprise that requires specialised equipment, inputs, storage facilities and highly skilled labour. At the same time, it also requires heavy investments for continuous research and development.
Already there are 12 Covid-19 vaccine production facilities either in operation or in the pipeline in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa.
Nigeria is dealing with the World Bank and other lenders to raise about $30 million to help finance a vaccine plant. At the same time, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya have expressed interest in manufacturing vaccines and other medicines.