Africa races to increase vaccine manufacturing capacity, concerns rise over Europe’s control

by Conrad Onyango, bird story agency….

As Africa races to be more independent in vaccine production, Europe is seeking greater control in building and scaling of local manufacturing hubs.

In June, France hosted the launch of African Vaccine Manufacturing Accelerator (AVMA) an approximately US$1 billion project geared towards making vaccines more available in Africa – away from African soil.

Only 2% of vaccines in Africa are made on the continent- most of them made in South Africa, among few countries with ability to produce vaccines. The African Union wants to raise that percentage to 60% by 2040.

“France and Europe have supported this ambition since 2021 with 1.3 billion euros, but we can do more,” said French president Emmanuel Macron at the Global Forum for Vaccine Sovereignty and innovation in Paris.

At the forum, European Union member countries committed to contribute more than US$ 750 million- including up to US$ 220 million from the EU budget, making them the largest contributors to the financial instrument.

Other donors filling the remaining gap include Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Norway, Japan and the Gates Foundation.

The African Union, represented by the leaders of Botswana, Rwanda, Senegal and Ghana, represented the continent in the launch of the financial instrument, which is backed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance — a public-private partnership that provides vaccines to developing countries.

More than three years ago, Africa faced huge inequalities during the global distributions of COVID-19 vaccines, exposing its inefficiencies and vulnerabilities to pandemic shocks – where African countries struggled to access vaccines, testing equipment and treatment tools bought by richer countries in large quantities.

These new funds are intended to offset high vaccine production costs, while also offering bigger incentives for manufacturers that produce priority vaccines such as those against malaria, cholera, and measles.

On the sidelines of the event, African Export-Import (Afriexim) Bank and the Africa Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) committed a US$2 billion facility to the “Africa Health Security Investment Plan” which they say will complement AVMA efforts over the next decade.

In a joint statement, Afrieximbank and Africa CDC said their renewed partnerships would address low investor confidence, lack of appropriate infrastructure, trade related barriers, and regulatory challenges that constrain investment in Africa’s health sector.

"This facility will help strengthen the manufacturing of health and pharmaceutical products in Africa through our comprehensive and existing interventions such as Project Preparation funding, Project and Trade Finance as well as Guarantees,’ said Prof. Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Afreximbank.

“The joint effort combines institutional and financial resources, financial tools such as equity and debt financing, guarantees, venture capital, capacity building, and risk-sharing to boost and attract more health investments in Africa,” said Dr. Jean Kaseya, Director General, Africa CDC.

A week before the Paris forum, Amref Health Africa Group Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Githinji Gitahi, raised reservations over hosting the launch in a foreign country, asserting it was sending the wrong message on Africa’s ownership and leadership of the initiative.

An African venue for the launch, Dr. Gitahi said, would have provided an ideal platform to showcase existing hubs and potential local manufacturing capacities, building confidence among international partners and investors in Africa’s ability to scale up vaccine production.

“Highlighting local facilities and innovations would demonstrate that Africa is ready and capable of handling such a critical initiative, fostering a sense of pride and accomplishment,” he said.

Africa has been making progress in its effort to locally manufacture vaccines, with South Africa, Egypt and Senegal leading in this front.

South Africa’s Biovac Institute continue to lead in fostering strategic partnerships with global pharmaceutical companies -the most recent being with Sanofi to establish the first manufacturing capabilities for inactivated polio vaccines (IPV) in Africa.

Under this arrangement, Sanofi will produce the IPV in bulk, while Biovac, holding the marketing authorization, will be responsible for late-stage formulation, filling, packaging, and distribution.

“We are very proud of this partnership with Sanofi, which will empower Biovac as an African manufacturer to champion polio eradication on and for the continent by bringing manufacturing of IPV doses closer to people’s needs,” said Biovac Chief Executive Officer, Dr Morena Makhoana.

Egypt’s Vacsera has been expanding its facilities to increase vaccine production capacity. The company plans to open the first factory for manufacturing bird flu vaccines with a production capacity of 800 million doses per year later in 2024. This development will position Egypt as an African and logistical centre for providing the region’s needs for bird flu vaccine.

In February, the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal, renowned for its yellow fever vaccine production, benefited from a partnership between Mastercard Foundation and the European Union. This partnership inaugurated the Centre for Africa’s Resilience to Epidemics (CARE) targeting to train 1,000 students in biology to predict, respond to, and prevent epidemics.

“These local initiatives exemplify Africa’s commitment to build a resilient, self-sufficient vaccine supply chain, ensuring better health outcomes and fostering economic growth across the continent,” said Dr. Gitahi.

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