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Ramaphosa calls on African leaders to support efforts to develop COVID-19 vaccine

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African Union Chairperson, President Cyril Ramaphosa, has called on African leaders to support efforts on the continent to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

Addressing the Conference on Africa’s Leadership Role in COVID-19 Vaccine Development and Access, President Ramaphosa said it is essential that there be significant local vaccine manufacturing in Africa.

“Success in developing and providing access to a safe vaccine for all Africans requires collaboration and cooperation of all member States.

“Through this meeting, which brings together African leaders, experts and other key stakeholders, we should produce a roadmap that involves efforts by Africans to produce the vaccines that are effective, safe and affordable,” President Ramaphosa said on Wednesday.

He said a portion of the GAVI (the Vaccine Alliance) vaccines, including for COVID-19 and the Expanded Programme of Immunisation, should be sourced from African manufacturers.

“The challenges and efforts needed to rapidly develop, evaluate and produce such a vaccine at scale are enormous, as are the resources required to ensure sufficient coverage across a continent as vast and populous as ours. Therefore, we need to act with urgency.”

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He encouraged African leaders to work together and negotiate with global donors to raise funds.

“…We need to mobilise resources in each of our countries and within the continent to secure supply of the vaccine upfront. We need to start to plan now and to improve the infrastructure in each of our countries to prepare for the rollout of the vaccine.”

This includes accelerating regulatory approvals, strengthening supply chains and improving Africa’s ability to deliver the vaccine to the population.

“Given the depth of expertise and capability on this continent, we need to support the contribution of African scientists and health care professionals to the vaccine effort,” the President said.

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He said while the disease is still in its early stages in Africa, infections are rising as countries ease their lockdowns in the face of mounting social and economic pressures.

“As the African continent, we have acted decisively and we have acted together in developing a strategy to combat the pandemic.

“We have been innovative in addressing our resource constraints through, for example, the establishment of the AU COVID-19 Response Fund, the Africa Medical Supplies Platform and the Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing.”

President Ramaphosa said the pandemic has forced African countries to revise their budgets to prioritise spending on health, including infrastructure, logistics and the purchase of pharmaceuticals, medical products, equipment and materials.

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“It has also underscored the essential value of maintaining funding for medical research even after the current health crisis has passed, so that we may be ready for the next pandemic. The Coronavirus pandemic is not the last such tragedy that humanity will encounter.”

The President urged leaders to work towards a much more responsive and equitable medical system.

“We need to develop centres of excellence and robust health systems capable of withstanding any threat. We urgently need to introduce universal health coverage to ensure no one is unable to access health care when they need it.

“By working together, by pooling our resources and by investing in innovation, we shall overcome this grave threat to the health and well-being of our people.”