Africa should no longer be the last in line to access vaccines against the COVID-19 pandemic, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the official launch of the Nant-SA Vaccine Manufacturing Campus in Cape town, Ramaphosa said it was part of a far broader initiative to propel Africa into a new era of health science.
The president joined Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, founder of the multinational conglomerate NantWorks, LLC, to launch the facility.
The launch follows the announcement by South African-born US pharmaceutical company head Soon-Shiong in September last year of an ambitious initiative to build capacity for advanced health care in Africa.
This state-of-the-art vaccine manufacturing campus that we are officially launching today is a bold step to unite biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, non-profit organisations and academia. The coalition recognises that Africa has both a great need and vast capabilities, Ramaphosa said.
The pandemic has revealed the huge disparities that exist within and between countries in access to quality healthcare, medicines, diagnostics and vaccines, he said.
At the same time, the pandemic has revealed the depth of scientific knowledge, expertise and capacity on our continent. It has shown what we are capable of when we work together to mobilise all our resources to confront a common challenge.
As the African Union Champion on COVID-19, South Africa supports vaccine manufacturing in Africa to ensure self-sufficiency of the continent. Africa should no longer be last in line to access vaccines against pandemics, the president said.
Ramaphosa said Africa has had to wage a concerted fight to secure vaccines for its people, although the 50 million vaccines that had been secured for the continent through the work of the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team was just over half of what was actually needed to vaccinate 900 million people to achieve the 70 per cent target set by the WHO.
We need more vaccine doses, we need better therapeutics, and we need to protect the people of our continent against future variants and future pandemics.
We have seen that if we want to safeguard the health of our people, we need to have the means, the technology and the resources to produce vaccines and treatments for all the diseases that afflict the people of our continent, Ramaphosa said.
The president said that the new facility would make a vital contribution to this mission, complementing the work already being done by companies like Aspen, Biovac and Afrigen in South Africa and several other companies in other parts of the continent.
Ramaphosa also lauded the skills of South Africa's scientists, many of whom have come under fire in recent months for having been the first to announce the discovery of the Omnicron variant of the Covid-19 virus, which is currently causing havoc across the globe, in November last year.
South Africa's capabilities in genomic surveillance are recognised worldwide and have been vital in our response and indeed the global response to the emergence of new COVID-19 variants. This has been possible only through collaboration, he said.
Africa stands ready to contribute to global scientific enquiry and knowledge, and to develop treatments, diagnostics and vaccines that will serve humanity. What we are asking for, what we need and what we now have is the opportunity to realise this bold and noble vision, Ramaphosa said.
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