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Improve collaboration for vaccine production - Johnson-Sirleaf urges African nations

BY: Nana Konadu Agyeman
Dr Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Dr Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

A former President of Liberia, Dr Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has urged African governments to collaborate and put more effort and resources into the establishment of a centre that can produce about 60 per cent of the continent’s vaccine requirement by 2040.

She said it was necessary to improve the diagnostic capacity of health centres, especially in infectious diseases on the continent, hence the need for nations to support the African Union’s (AU’s) effort at creating an enabling environment for the setting up of vaccine production hubs in the five regions of the continent under an Africa Partnership for Vaccine Manufacturing (APVM) programme.

“What the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us once again is that we must take our destiny into our own hands to build robust health systems,” she added.

Event

Delivering the keynote address via a pre-recorded virtual stream at a CelebrateLAB West Africa Conference 2022 in Africa yesterday, Dr Johnson-Sirleaf said the Ebola epidemic had been a wake-up call, and that COVID-19 had further opened “our eyes to an inadequate world order that continues to keep Africa at the end of the line”.

“We must ensure a strengthened health system that ensures that our people have equitable access to health care, a health system prepared and ready to put Africa in front of the line when the next pandemic does come,” she said.

The two-day annual meeting was participated in by laboratory professionals from across the sub-region to share ideas on how best to strengthen medical laboratory practice, especially in proactive diagnoses to combat infectious diseases.

It is on the theme: “Ensuring diagnostic capability and vaccine sufficiency as panacea to combating infectious diseases in West Africa”.

Experiences

The former Liberian President said at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, most African countries experienced stock-out of some essential medical commodities, making it imperative for the region to be self-sufficient in the production of vaccines and laboratory equipment.

That, she said, calls for the nations to build the needed capacity to ensure that in future “we will not wait at the end of the line for our supplies of diagnostic devices, vaccines or drugs”.

“We must work to truly build research expertise in diseases of importance to Africa and create better diagnostic, drugs, vaccines and medical devices in Africa for Africa.

“There is an urgent need to complement efforts by member states and regional economic communities by providing a public health platform. A very good example of such a public health platform is the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC),” Dr Johnson-Sirleaf added.

According to World Health Organisation estimates in February this year, around 672 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been received in Africa, of which 65 per cent was facilitated by COVAX, 29 per cent via bilateral deals and six per cent through the AU’s vaccines acquisition trust.

“The continent still lags behind, with only 11 per cent of the adult population fully vaccinated till date, when other countries have authorised second and third boosters,” she said.

Dr Johnson-Sirleaf congratulated President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo on his leadership role in the AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that had ensured that the region worked together to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by limiting its effects on the people.

Committee

In a speech read on his behalf, the Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, said the government had established a vaccine production committee, while a bill to establish a vaccine institute was also underway.

To bolster the vaccine sufficiency agenda, he said, the country had partnered Senegal and Rwanda to produce vaccines.

“With $25 million from the government of Ghana as seed money, funding support of €5 million from the German Development Cooperation and support from other development partners, the process is being facilitated.