Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia will be the first countries on the African continent to receive the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines, which have proved crucial to the fight against COVID-19.

The announcement was made at a ceremony hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Council, France and South Africa and with the respective Presidents of each in attendance.

“No other event like the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that reliance on a few companies to supply global public goods is limiting, and dangerous”, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The revolutionary mRNA technology teaches the body’s own cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response, without using any viral material. In the case of COVID-19, it produces a harmless piece of the spike protein, alerting the body to defend itself from the virus.

The global mRNA technology transfer hub was established in South Africa last year to support low and middle-income countries in manufacturing their own mRNA vaccines – with the required operating procedures and know-how to meet international standards.

Primarily set up to address the COVID-19 emergency, the hub has the potential to expand its capacity for other manufacturing as well, putting countries in the driver’s seat when it comes to the kinds of vaccines needed to address their health priorities.

Depending on the country’s infrastructure, workforce and regulatory capacity, WHO and partners will work with them to develop a roadmap, organize training and provide support to begin producing the highly effective vaccines at home, as soon as possible.

“This is an initiative that will allow us to make our own vaccines and that…means mutual respect…investment in our economies…and, in many ways, giving back to the continent”, said South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa.

To ensure that every country builds the capacity to produce their own vaccines and health technologies, WHO has been establishing a biomanufacturing workforce training hub for States interested in production and scientific and clinical research, which will be announced in the coming weeks.

“In the mid to long-term, the best way to address health emergencies and reach universal health coverage is to significantly increase the capacity of all regions to manufacture the health products they need, with equitable access as their primary endpoint,” Tedros said.

Musa Suleiman
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