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Africa’s international health conference focuses on boosting vaccine manufacturing

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By Omar Bah, reporting from Lusaka

Recognising Africa’s struggle to access Covid-19 vaccines during the pandemic, African heads of state, ministers of health and leading scientists and innovators have used the 3rd International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA), underway in Lusaka, Zambia to renew commitment for the continent to manufacture at least 60 percent of the vaccines it needs by 2040.

The event provides a unique African-led platform for leaders across the continent to reflect on lessons learned in health and science and align on a way forward for creating more resilient health systems.

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The conference, which attracted 5,000 delegates from across the globe with over 20,000 others following online, was officially opened by Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema on Monday. The Namibian prime minister, 35 African ministers of health, and WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who was awarded the Africa CDC Prestigious Lifetime Achievement in Public Health Award for championing pandemic response in Africa, are attending as speakers and participants.

Africa’s desire for vaccine manufacturing was palpable among speakers.

“We need to break the barriers that have been hindering us for far too long for Africa to be able to meet its health response targets,” Dr Jean Kaseya, Africa CDC Director General, said.

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He revealed that less than ten percent of African countries are able to respond to outbreaks due to lack of vaccines and proper response mechanisms.

“This is the time for the world to hear from Africa and for the world to acknowledge the presence of African leaders,” he added.

Dr Jean said Africa’s independence in health delivery depends highly on its ability to define its own destiny, and that will include manufacturing its own vaccine.

“We saw during COVID that all other countries can lock their doors while we are left behind. Who can accept that? This is why our heads of state created the Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing Program to manufacture at least 60 percent of the vaccines that we need to use in Africa. We are working with member states to clearly map out where we can manufacture our vaccines,” he said.

He added that the Africa CDC has already held meetings with ministers, manufacturers, partners, and regulatory bodies to see how together “we can accelerate this agenda.”

The CPHIA co-chair, Professor Margaret Gyapong, said African scientists and researchers are leading the charge in developing groundbreaking vaccines tailored to address regional disease burdens, including malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.

She said the Africa long-term health blueprint to be implemented by the Africa CDC will facilitate dialogue between countries.

“Now, we should push for a practical margin of the African market, together with regional economic communities partnering with other regional entities to develop policies that would encourage countries to procure their vaccines from African-based pharmaceutical companies. The regional communities should also negotiate for the eight procurement agencies to procure vaccines mainly from Africa’s pharmaceutical manufacturers,” she said.

She appealed for the promotion of good publicity for African pharmaceutical companies.

Also commenting on the issue, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema said the need for Africa to start manufacturing its own vaccine cannot be overemphasised.

“I remember during the COVID pandemic, we could not have vaccines, and we had to go to donor organisations to seek support. Embassies were receiving vaccines from their countries and vaccinating themselves and their staff. This is how the world treated us. But should we blame them? No. We are glad that some African countries are manufacturing vaccines. At a political level, one or two countries may be lacking, but I can assure you that the majority of us are committed to ensuring that we achieve this dream,” President Hichilema said.

He said good relationships among African governments are crucial to achieving this dream.

“There is no need for self-deceit; we must work hard because there is no other way around it,” he said.

The Namibian prime minister, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, said her country is also committed to the African Union’s agenda of promoting the manufacturing of vaccines.

The WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said his organisation has a strong commitment to strengthening continental organisations, arguing that Africa must lead any initiative designed to shape its destiny.

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