COVID-19: South Africa courts Africa’s support to produce vaccines

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged African leaders to support his country’s proposal for the World Trade Organisation to grant a temporary waiver of certain Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to enable the country to produce vaccines.

He said South Africa and India co-sponsored the proposal to ensure access to covid-19 vaccine and treatment as a critical component of the continent’s recovery from the ravages of the pandemic and said it was important for leaders on the continent to support the bid.

“As African countries, we should rally together behind this proposal as many have because the fastest and most effective way to vaccinate our populations is if we are allowed to manufacture our own vaccines and at the same time build our own manufacturing capabilities.

“As African leaders, we have to adopt strategies for a resilient recovery, and one of the best ways of doing so is if we manufacture our own vaccines.

“And this is where we will go beyond President Akufo-Addo’s proposal that Africa stops being recipients of aid. We should actually rely on our capabilities as Africans. And it is precisely for this reason that we have raised this issue that manufacturing of vaccines should be based on the African continent,” President Ramaphosa stressed.

That, he said, would ensure timely access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatment, which was critical to the mitigation of the adverse impact of the pandemic on African economies.

President Ramaphosa who made the call at the Ghana-South Africa Business Forum in Accra on Sunday, said the earlier vaccines were manufactured on the continent, the better for the economic recovery of Africa.

President Ramaphosa said it was not acceptable that whereas over 220 million vaccines doses had been administered in Africa, only 6.7 per cent of its population was fully vaccinated.

“This is simply not acceptable and it is also not enough if we are to revive and rebuild our economies that have been made fragile by covid-19. Equitable access to vaccines is clearly the best way to mitigate the economic, social and health consequences of the pandemic.

The South Africa President said with some 1.3 billion Africans still unvaccinated, it was critical that vaccines were manufactured on the continent and not imported from elsewhere, “to ensure economic sustainability and faster industrialisation of our respective economies.”

“The task that lies before us is to actively seek out trade and investment opportunities beyond our borders, not in Europe, not in Asia or the Americas, but with our own neighbours and on our own continent,” he said.

Emphasising the urgent need for the continent to pay attention to its pharmaceutical sector because of its growth potential, Mr Ramaphosa, noted that the pandemic had thought Africa that its reliance on other nations for important medical supplies was not sustainable.

“We have already seen progress in the South African pharmaceuticals sector, which has commenced with the local production of vaccines. We have observed the same trends here in Ghana as local businesses switched to the production of personal protective equipment.

“South Africa and Ghana, and a few other countries on the continent are primed, ready and will have the capability of manufacturing the vaccines that our continent needs. And it is for this reason that the WTO should put the waiver into effect so that we must get on with the task of protecting the health of our people on our continent and ourselves as Africans and not be reliant on some people in Europe and in America who tend to look after their own interest before they look after the interest of others.”

President Akufo-Addo, who has also been at the forefront of advocating for vaccine production on the continent, said it was time for Africa to look inward for solutions to its developmental challenges.

He supported the call by the South African President for the domestic production of vaccines, saying, “It’s one that you have our strong support.”

The President said in the era of pandemics, it was imperative that the continent built local capacity and not be dependent again “on people who hold vaccines when the world needs them.”

Ghana, he said, had initiated the process to eventually produce its own vaccines, starting with the establishment of a national vaccine Institute to lead the process.

“We are in full support of the position you have taken and we are hoping that we can work together in these areas for the future,” President Akufo-Addo told his South African counterpart.

The two leaders, pleased with the level of bilateral trade between their countries, called on private sector operators in South Africa and Ghana to intensify cooperation and create employment for people on the continent.

“Let’s seize the opportunity. Let us continue to work together in synergy…there is an atmosphere of trust and solidarity amongst us because it is that, which would enable us to succeed in what we’re doing,” said President Akufo-Addo.

The Forum was part of activities marking the two-day visit of President Ramaphosa to Ghana.

It brought together business leaders from South Africa and Ghana and aimed at enhancing the partnership between Ghana and South Africa.

It was also to enable investors on both sides to share experiences and exchange information on priority sectors, initiatives and opportunities for investment between the private sector operators of the two countries.

The Forum is expected to advance cooperation in strategic investment needed to harness the vast resources of the two countries for industrial transformation and to boost intra-Africa trade and regional economic integration.

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