LLast month, Cape Town was home to one of the world’s largest vaccine factories, which is expected to produce 1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine each year by 2025. For many, this is an important step in efforts to reduce Africa’s vaccine needs vis-à-vis the West. It also shows that South Africa’s medical expertise, which has made the world aware of the existence of the Beta and Omicron variants, makes it one of the best hubs to provide the continent with the doses it needs. so much needed.
This initiative, along with other efforts to expand vaccine production in Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal and other countries, is seen as self-sufficiency measures in response to a global crisis that has seen countries wealthy hoarding doses, blocking proposals to share the intellectual property right to vaccines, and failing to meet their foreign aid commitments, so that only one in ten Africans are fully immunized.
A potential not to be underestimated
Thus, AU countries have enormous potential to become real actors in the global fight against Covid: a philosophy that must be at the forefront when world leaders meet for the AU-EU summit, this week. French President Emmanuel Macron, in his role as head of the European Union, has a unique opportunity at this summit to demonstrate his leadership and help end this pandemic by encouraging other member states to stop blocking the TRIPS waiver – a proposal to suspend intellectual property rules for all Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments, backed by more than 120 countries – at the World Trade Organization. It is high time that AU countries were seen as partners in the fight against Covid-19 and not as recipients. Misconceptions about African countries’ response to the pandemic abound, perpetuating the continent’s nefarious narrative as a charity case. However, the reality is quite different. For example, according to the non-profit group Development Reimagined, African countries, despite constraints, are making responsible investments in public health.
Responsible investments in public health
This NGO estimates that the countries of the continent have provided in their national budgets 63 billion dollars to fight against Covid-19 for the 2020-2021 financial year alone, or 2.3% of African GDP. At the same time, African countries are penalized in their expenditure, even if this expenditure is necessary in order to respond to the global health crisis. For example, rating agencies have just downgraded Ghana’s sovereign rating because of its debt, which has reached 82% of GDP.
Furthermore, despite the difficulties of receiving doses in unpredictable quantities with a very short notice period, most African governments are making enormous efforts to ensure the injection of vaccines and avoid wasting the doses. According to the Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 0.5% of the total vaccines received are expired across the African continent, far less than in other regions of the world, including France . When doses expire, it is largely because many vaccine shipments donated in 2021 only reached countries within weeks of their expiry date.
Thinking about public health as a global good
These facts underscore why the charity-driven global health response, which has seen Africa continue to depend on a trickle of foreign aid and whose very model has led to non-existent or fragile health systems in many countries Africans, must stop. Rather, we need to rethink public health as a global good whose effects and benefits transcend borders. It is time to rethink vaccine research, development and production as public science, the results of which should be shared for the public good.
Ahead of the upcoming AU-EU summit, French President Emmanuel Macron said he would favor a global license for coronavirus vaccines that would remove intellectual property barriers. At the very least, European leaders must agree to remove the obstacles to acquiring the capacities, intellectual property and technologies that Africa needs to manufacture its own vaccines. However, this is far less ambitious than the proposed TRIPS waiver from India and South Africa, which would cover not only patents but also other forms of intellectual property, which the EU continues to block at the World Trade Organization.
Use all political and legal tools
This proposal is blocked by the intransigence of countries, including Germany, which have given priority to protecting the interests of their own pharmaceutical industries. EU governments should also employ all available political and legal tools to push pharmaceutical companies to share vaccine technology and know-how through the WHO Covid Technology Access Pool, C-TAP, a voluntary global intellectual property pool, and South Africa’s mRNA hub. The recent agreement between Spain and the WHO to develop an antibody test is a good example of the types of C-TAP partnerships possible.
Pay attention to the consequences of vaccine injustice
For his part, French President Emmanuel Macron praised the EU’s results in the export of vaccines, but, in reality, of the 10 billion doses administered at the end of January, 77% were in the least developed countries. richer. This ongoing vaccine injustice must remain etched in the memory of humanity. If this inequality persists, dangerous variants will continue to circulate, threatening lives, health and economic recovery.
The Covid-19 pandemic has unmasked the self-interests that underlie global dynamics favoring the wealthy countries of the North by harming us all. It is high time to break this cycle of dependency and replace it with global health cooperation based on mutual respect and justice.
* Aggrey Aluso is director of the Open Society Initiative’s health and rights program in East Africa.