Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and other global leaders have voiced the urgent need to scale up Covid-19 vaccine production and access in the wake of a pandemic that has caused great economic loss and burdened the health care systems on the continent.
They were speaking on Tuesday, September 22, at a sideline event on health during the ongoing 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.
Their discussion was part of a series of panel sessions around the themes of vaccines, resilience and global health, hosted by the Future Investment Initiative Institute.
“Africa cannot outsource its health to the rest of the world. We’ve got to build Africa’s indigenous manufacturing capacity… we need to secure ourselves,” Adesina said as he emphasized the need to build Africa’s manufacturing and healthcare capacity to shockproof the continent from future pandemics and other health crises.
Adesina said the African Development Bank would contribute $3 billion to the development of Africa’s pharmaceutical industry over the next 10 years.
“What is needed in the long term is building Africa’s pharmaceutical capacity,” he noted.
World Trade Organisation Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Global Infrastructure Partners Vice Chairman and Partner Jim Yong Kim also took part in the panel discussion.
Speaking about what world leaders are doing to close the dangerous health gap exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Okonjo-Iweala said her top two priorities were to get countries who have excess to vaccines to donate them to COVAX – the initiative led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the Vaccine Alliance Gavi and the World Health Organization.
The second, she said, was to “get richer countries swap places with poorer countries on the waiting list for vaccines.”
In the long term, Okonjo-Iweala said, it was about building Africa’s capacity to manufacture. “We need to decentralize manufacturing,” she stressed.
On the same issue, Jim Yong Kim decried the lack of leadership in the present global health crisis.
“Where is the coalition that will say this is an unprecedented challenge? What we now need is leadership… We had a similar problem treating people with HIV… we can solve them for the vaccine shortage,” he said.
Standing in the way of that capacity are the various restrictions and trade barriers, intellectual property rights and lack of raw materials, which are making it even harder for African countries to get into the game.
“We are taking action… supply chains for vaccines are very complicated… making sure supply chains flow… We need to lift restrictions so that manufacturers can get what they need,” Okonjo-Iweala said.
“Vaccine nationalism doesn’t pay… We’ve got to let technology be transferred. We can’t be selfish in this pandemic. Lives are at stake,” she added.
Africa’s GDP contracted by 2.1 percent in 2020, falling by 6.1 percentage points from the pre-Covid forecasts.