UP hosts Presidents Ramaphosa and Macron for Vaccine Discussion

NOKWANDA KUBHEKA AND MOTHUSI MOKALANE

On 28 May, the University of Pretoria hosted President Cyril Ramaphosa as well as the President of the Republic of France, Emmanuel Macron, at the UP Future Africa Campus for a high-level dialogue on manufacturing vaccines in Africa.

The program was directed by the Minister of Higher Education Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, who expressed his appreciation for the “historic and extensive cooperation with France including in areas such as education, science and technology.”

Vice Chancellor of UP, Prof. Tawana Kupe, delivered a welcome address to attendees. He described the Future Africa Campus as a “vibrant, collaborative place where Africa’s leading researchers and scholars from across the world and from a broad range of disciplines come together to leverage the benefits of transdisciplinary research in order to address the grand challenges that face Africa and the world.” He expressed that the vaccine rollout being delayed across the continent due to a lack of resources is “just another example of African lives left to be at risk or on hold while wealthier nations hit the reset button and move forward.” Prof. Kupe highlighted the work done by African universities who “came to the party working with African governments and the private sector” and manufactured sanitisers, personal protective equipment, managed vaccine trials, and much more. He said that Future Africa is one of the four key transdisciplinary innovation platforms UP has launched which will enable the institution to become much more impactful in response to global and local challenges like the pandemic. “Future Africa thrives on the principle of achieving transformative outcomes through partnerships and collaborations to achieve what we could not achieve alone,” said Prof. Kupe, ending his welcoming remarks by mentioning the importance of collaboration and partnerships.

Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, a Co-director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa, rendered brief remarks on the need for vaccines on the African continent. Prof. Abdool’s argument is that the inequitable access to vaccinations in Africa is a serious crisis. She indicated that most of the third world states in the African continent, from the initial roll out of vaccines, have received minimum doses. Prof. Abdool urges governments to invest in the science and technology of vaccine production across the globe, especially in Africa.

Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, the CEO of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), spoke about vaccines and immunisation cooperation. Dr Semete-Makokotlela alluded that their role in the roll out of vaccines across South Africa and Africa is to ensure that the conduct of medical services is safe and that people are responding well to vaccines. She also announced that their organisation has invented a regulatory app called MacSafety app. This app monitors the performance of vaccines, also to ensure that the vaccines are effective and not harmful to the people. Dr Semete-Makokotlela stated that as an agency, they are working closely with European medical agencies to ensure security of vaccines for South Africa. The role of SAHPRA in the World Health Organisation is to ensure ethical medicines productions and vaccines. SAHPRA also works with various African medical agencies as a regulator of all medical services offered in the continent. Dr Semete-Makokotlela said that “the benefits of collaboration will be the maximised production of vaccines, roll out and access to it”. Dr Semete-Makokotlela went on to indicate that such collaborations, such as the one between South Africa and the French Republic, build strength for local regulators to develop vaccines for the current pandemic and future ones.

Makhtar Diop, Managing Director of the International Finance Corporation, opened his speech by stating that investments in the health sector are a priority for African leaders. Diop said that the aim of the International Finance Corporation is to finance pharmaceutical companies on the African continent and make access to medical equipment easy for African medical practitioners. The corporation also calls for the acceleration of vaccines in Africa. Biovac Institute Chief Executive Officer, Morena Makhoana, also gave a brief address as a representative of Vaccine Manufacturers in South Africa. Makhoana called for investments in the technology and science of vaccination production in the African continent. This is because, as he stated, “the last vaccine that was created in South Africa was in 2001”. Makhoana indicated that Biovac was formed as a response to the lack of vaccination science and creation in South Africa. Addressing the French Republic President, Emmanuel Macron, directly, Makhona stated that South Africa is open for business, therefore they are looking forward to the French-South Africa collaboration.

CEO and co-founder of Aspen Pharmacare, Stephen Saad, opened his remarks by commending the two presidents, Ramaphosa and Macron, for their competency in fighting the pandemic. Saad went on to indicate that we all have to remember that “we are only safe if we are all safe, therefore these kinds of collaborations are important”. Saad mentioned that Aspen commits itself to create “one vaccine for one Africa” and that “the continent has to work together to achieve this”. Saad reminded listeners that Aspen served Africa during the HIV/AIDS and TB crisis and expressed their desire to serve Africa again during the COVID-19 crisis. Saad also warned that Africans cannot accept that 90% of vaccines are to be from countries out of Africa, “we also need African manufacturers to manufacture vaccines that Europe can purchase”. Saad told the two presidents that the industry does not necessarily need donations, but support that vaccines manufactured in Africa will have global demand where purchasing is concerned.

“We have got 1.2 billion people on our African continent yet 60% of them need to be vaccinated, it is a huge number, and the production of the vaccine is just not living up to the numbers we need.” – President Ramaphosa 

The Minister of Health of Germany, Jens Spahn, assured the public of Germany’s support of the development and expansion of Africa’s own independent pharmaceutical and medical technology industry. “Together with the EU [European Union], we want to contribute to the development of production sites in order to ensure that all of Africa will benefit from domestically made products and technologies that are safe and innovative“, said Spahn. The minister noted Germany’s commitment to accelerating the vaccination campaign as a top priority to end the pandemic, saying “no one is safe, until everyone is safe”. “[…] France and Germany are supporting credit financing to boost [Africa‘s] sustainable local manufacturing by the World Bank and the IFC [International Finance Corporation],” said Spahn.

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, expressed that the short term issue was to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, while the long term issue is to deal with the imbalances of health systems especially in vaccine production. He congratulated Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and commended President Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership as a champion for the huge acceleration of the African capacities and delivering concrete results. He said that he advocates, along with President Ramaphosa, for COVID-19 vaccines to be global public goods, calling universal access not only a moral imperative but also a necessity for global health security. “Together with Germany, each of us committed [to] 30 million doses through Covax which means that the European Union committed for 100 million doses, but I am sure that in the coming weeks and months, the international club can do much more”, said Macron. He called for the improvement of transparency and accountability for this mechanism as he expressed that it is very difficult to see how much goes where and when, especially since they are accumulating billions of dollars. He proposed that CDC Africa have a one-pager with the goal number of people to be vaccinated by a certain time with the number of doses per country and financing will go toward that specific goal. He said that this is the only way to deliver.

Dr Semete-Makokotlela said that “the benefits of collaboration will be the maximised production of vaccines, roll out and access to it”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa thanked the UP for organising the seminar on vaccines, particularly the manufacturing of vaccines in the African continent that “provides us a very vivid demand” and is a “demonstration that there is capacity in this country and expertise and experience to manufacture but this capacity also goes beyond South Africa as a number of other African countries have also, over time, developed their own capacity”.  He commended President Macron for taking the trouble to listen and take in views from other leaders saying, “[…] the Countries of Europe or the Northern countries must not tell us what is good for us, they must listen to us because we know what is good for ourselves”. He described President Macron as an advocate for Africa’s cause more than many and a “real champion for Africa.”

 “Right at the beginning, as the pandemic occurred […] as the pandemic broke, [we] developed a strategy for the whole continent […]. Thereafter, as we were running all over the world trying to get PPEs [Personal Protective Equipment], because all of a sudden we knew we needed masks, we needed all manner of things that could defend us against the pandemic, we suddenly found that many countries in the North had bought all the PPEs and supplies were short and we were competing amongst ourselves as Africans and we were paying high prices. We immediately came up with the idea that let us set up the African Medical Supplies Platform”, said Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa welcomed France’s recent contribution of an additional 30 million doses to Covax working together with Germany and five hundred million Euros in multilateral funds to buy diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. He went on to say that despite these and other contributions, vaccine coverage on the African continent is just 2% and that only 1% of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated, revealing that “access is our biggest and the most dangerous challenge”.

“The one enemy that we all have to defeat requires that for a set time frame, that we should allow further production of vaccines because as it is now, the vaccines that have been produced, even by those who say they have innovated, are not enough to cover all of us. We have got 1.2 billion people on our African continent yet 60% of them need to be vaccinated, it is a huge number, and the production of the vaccine is just not living up to the numbers we need. Even here in South Africa we are still hamstrung, held back by the numbers that are not there,” said Ramaphosa.

In preparation for the G7 and G20 summits, Ramaphosa and Macron have agreed to work together specifically for the issue of the vaccine waiver so that the World Trade Organisation is able to process the matter as quickly as possible while seeking for their colleagues at the summits to agree to work together to have the waiver for a limited period which is going to allow there to be access and saving lives.

The President reaffirmed South Africa’s commitment to achieving a balanced outcome that takes the interest of all into account and expressed desire for the world to approach this matter in the same form. 

Image: up.ac.za

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