Across Africa, governments continue to battle the effects of the second wave of the novel coronavirus infections and the COVID-19 disease. The continent has so far relatively escaped the cataclysmic consequences of the pandemic afflicting various societies around the globe.
Ghana, which has recorded just under 70000 cases to date, is no different. Despite the sudden spike in cases in the last 30 days, the country still has consistently experienced over 90 % recovery rate over the last twenty (20) weeks. Within the same period, active cases as a percentage of recorded infections have not exceeded ten per cent (10%).
On 31st January 2021, President Nana Akufo-Addo announced that his government was planning to procure over 17 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of June 2021. Where these vaccines are to be sourced from and which brands have yet to be officially confirmed. Most likely the first batch to arrive in the country will be for essential and frontline personnel.
Richer nations have already begun mass immunisation campaigns. In comparison, only a small number of African nations are beginning to roll out vaccine doses for critical workers
With over a 1.1billion people on the continent at risk of contracting SAR-COV-2, the scramble for vaccine supplies is about to begin. With virtually no manufacturing capacity on the continent, mass immunizations of the continent’s citizenry will definitely not commence before END 1QTR 2021.
While SAR-C0V-2 vaccines are becoming increasingly available in amongst others, Europe North America and Asia, there are still major manufacturing and cold chain logistics capacity challenges. It is for this reason why some countries have highlighted the possibility of blocking vaccine exports until their populations have been immunized first – sparking accusations of vaccine nationalism.
For leading supply chain and healthcare experts, it is not surprising that the “richer nations” of the first world would want vaccines produced in their territories to be available for their citizens first. In fact, this type of vaccine nationalism is only to be expected
Yes, global collaboration is required to beat this highly contagious virus. However complains from various NGOs (who sometimes have their own self-serving agendas!) for leaders in these richer nations taking such “my country first position” can hardly be justified – especially since the majority of the vaccine production facilities are located in their territories.
Although it is universally acknowledged that SAR-C0V-2 has no respect for national boundaries, objective decision-makers in developing economies will accept that surely it is the fiduciary duty of the leaders of these richer nations to give priority to their own people.
For now, “beggars and aid seekers” cannot be choosers. The citizenry in especially Africa will just have to wait for the Europeans, Americans to sort out their own people first before they can fully come to our aid. Although China, Russia and India have promised to assist with coronavirus related vaccine supplies to the continent, they will equally give priority to their citizenry.
The clarion call for intellectual property rights for SAR-COV-2 vaccines and COVID-19 therapeutics to be temporally waived is a supportable call. However, it has to be carefully controlled and managed to avoid obvious abuse and other unintended consequences for future vaccine research and development.
In times of crisis, there is also the opportunity for critical thinkers, strategist and political leaders to do some introspection and come up with lasting solutions to some self-created problems.
In 2000, in my capacity as CEO of Infobank, together with now South African, President Ramaphosa who then occupied the position of chairman of Infobank, encouraged African leaders to collaborate to build vaccine and pharmaceutical manufacturing hubs to help cater for the health needs of the region.
In 2005, the appeal was again directly and indirectly made to Presidents Agyekum Kufuor, Thabo Mbeki and their respective health ministers about the urgent need for at least one sub-regional FDA and EU approved vaccine manufacturing and packaging entity.
In 2012, the plea was made to both President Mills and President Zuma and their respective health ministers.
In 2015, similar petitions were made to supply chain C-suite executives in Southern, Eastern, and Western Africa.
In all cases, all the Presidents and their respective ministers were very enthusiastic about the need but sadly did not get the necessary support to make it a reality.
In September 2020, via a publication, the clarion was again made to Africa leaders about the need for African nations to view the pandemic as an opportunity to go into vaccine production and packaging.
Bill Gates and other leading experts have rightly warned that there could be another pandemic. It is interesting to note that in the United Kingdom there is already a vaccines minister appointed to help champion sectorial initiatives at the highest level to prepare the nation for future epidemics or pandemics
The big question is what are Africa leaders going to do in anticipation of the next one?
The good news is that there are positive moves from some of the region’s forward-thinking leaders. Presidents Ramaphosa and Akufo Addo have publicly committed to supporting the rapid and sustainable development of vaccine manufacturing and associated supply chains in their respective countries.
In South Africa there are already major initiatives under President Ramaphosa, the health minister Dr Mkhize and the trade minister Mr Patel to create vaccine capacity in the SADC region. Through their own efforts, they recently received its first one million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine from India initially for mainly essential and frontline workers. In Nov 2020 Aspen Pharmacare, the country largest Pharmaceutical company announced that they had entered into a preliminary agreement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc, and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, two of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, for the technical transfer and manufacture of their yet to be approved COVID-19 vaccine candidate, Ad26.COV2-S.
In support of President’ Akufo-Addo’s vision, the government must seriously consider creating a Ghana Vaccine Development Authority-(“GHAVDA”) to immediately kick-start vaccine manufacturing and related supply chain-related development projects. For it to be self-financing and sustainable, GHAVDA must be truly independent and business-driven but underpinned by rigorous sectorial scientific research
Unlike before, it is hoped that both Presidents will get immediate support from their executive, legislature and broader society for these critical long-term projects which will help to establish their respective countries as sub-regional vaccine production and packaging centre of excellence for the continent.
To summarize, emerging vaccine nationalism should be a wake-up call for African political and business leaders and policymakers to start taking immediate actions to enable the development of internationally approved and world-class vaccine manufacturing and cold chain supply chain capacity in the region.
To conclude, the relative lack of vaccine research, development and production on the continent poses a significant risk to African nations seeking greater independence in the post-COVID-19 era. The associated lack of cold chain logistics network on the continent is a dire consequence of not investing in sectorial supply chains and manufacturing.
Let us hope that the current and next-generation do not wait another 20 years and for another pandemic before these needed continental vaccine supply chain projects come to light. We owe it to the current youth and the next generation to act now before it is too late.