Experts to dissect ways to ramp up Africa vaccine manufacture

By Amindeh Blaise Atabong 

Experts concerned with Africa’s health system will examine ways of ramping up local vaccine manufacture on the continent when they meet for the third International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA) in Lusaka, Zambia, November 27-30, an official has said.

Speaking to NewsWatch, Akhona Tshangela, Program Coordinator for Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said they are keen to expand the local manufacture of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics in order to reduce the burden foreign importation places on Africa’s health systems and boost the continent’s ability to respond to pandemics and other health crises.

Less than 1%, about 12 million doses, of vaccines presently administered in Africa are locally manufactured. But under a New Public Health Order, there are plans to scale up local vaccine production to 60% by 2040.

Tshangela said through panel discussions and presentations, they will strategize on how to build local manufacturing capacities, expand diagnostic potentials and look into which strategic partnerships need to be formed to grow regional capacities.

Close to 400,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine under the COVAX facility arrived in Cameroon in April 2021. Photo: UNICEF Cameroon

“When we are talking about health products and technologies, we are aware there are quite a number of innovations currently happening within the continent,” Tshangela said, underscoring the need to contextualise what needs to be done on the continent and harness regional resources to ensure the overall success of local manufacturing.

According to Tshangela, Covid-19 was an eye-opener for Africa as the continent had a very difficult time and was basically at the end of the line to access lifesaving health products which were being manufactured at the time.

The PAVM program coordinator said they are poised to reverse the tide and locally produce vaccines with Africans in mind as vaccines manufactured outside Africa tend to focus on the needs of those who are actually manufactured for their population.

“So, we have identified priority diseases as well as key enablers that will help really support the overall ecosystem to reach the 60% target. We identified about 22 priority diseases which need to be targeted to be able to have antigens, and really contextualising to the African setup,” said Tshangela, who co-leads CPHIA 2023 track on “Fostering African-led innovation: Advancing local production in vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.”

She cited HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and lassa fever amongst the priority diseases they will be targeting with local development of vaccines and drugs.

Tshangela posited that in order to achieve this ambitious goal, there is need for a strong regulatory framework to ensure that whatever pharmaceutical products manufactured on the continent are of good quality and meet international standards. The PAVM program coordinator also raised the need to ensure that local manufacturers meet supply and that there is demand for the supply.

“We are really working on developing a proper mechanism to ensure that we can consolidate all the supply that we have in Africa, primarily to reduce the pricing and make it a bit more affordable,” Tshangela said.

Besides highlighting the necessity to facilitate technology transfer and issues of intellectual property rights, Tshangela harped on research and development as well as building the right networks and centres of excellence so as to have end to end production on the continent.

In addition, she mentioned the need to develop infrastructure to make sure there are utilities like electricity and clean water for local manufacturers and that trade policies favour the movement of goods within the continent.

Further, Tshangela believes that to have a sustainable manufacturing ecosystem in Africa and to reach the 60% target, there is a need to increase the workforce from the current 2,000 – 3,000 full-time employees to as many as 14,500 talents in bio manufacturing.

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