EU sets out plan to support Africa for the next pandemic

Foreign aid from rose to an all-time high of US$179 billion in 2021 but the 4.4% rise was largely fuelled by controversial donated COVID vaccines, according to preliminary data collected by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. [Project Last Mile/The Coca-Coal Foundation]

The EU has made a coordinated push to help support African states to prepare their health systems for the next pandemic, but without appearing to give any ground on the main short–term demand of African leaders to allow them to produce COVID vaccines.

On Thursday evening, leaders at the EU–African Union summit in Brussels were expected to debate access to vaccines, with the EU promising ‘vaccine equity’, although there appears little sign that the bloc will drop its opposition to a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights of COVID jabs.

Arriving at the European Council, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has been one of the harshest critics of what he has described as the EU’s ‘vaccine apartheid’, said that while vaccine access and production would be discussed, he was not yet convinced by the EU’s offer. Fewer than 12% of Africans have been fully vaccinated against COVID.

“When it comes to finally ending the pandemic, Africa is increasingly speaking with one voice – but is Europe listening?” questioned Edwin Ikhuoria, ONE Executive Director in Africa.

“With less than 11% of the African population vaccinated, it is all too clear that the current rules of the game do not work for us,” he added.

In the meantime, the EU has unveiled a series of measures that could help fulfil the long term ambition of African leaders to develop the continent’s pharmaceutical sector and supply chain. The African Union has set a target of 60% of the vaccines used on the continent being manufactured there.

On Thursday, European Investment Bank President Werner Hoyer announced that €500 million of capital would be made available with the aim of mobilising €1 billion of investment to support the development of resilient health systems in Africa.

Earlier this week, the European Commission and the Gates Foundation announced a €100 million investment over the next five years to support the recently established African Medicines Agency (AMA) and other national African medicines regulators.

Last month, South African biotech company Biologics announced it had produced the continent’s first coronavirus vaccine based on mRNA technology using the genetic code that Moderna, which also manufactures mRNA vaccines, made publicly available.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, at the BioNTech Vaccine Equity for Africa meeting in the German town of Marburg, the pharmaceutical giant announced that it would start building its first African factory producing Covid vaccines early next year.

The facility, initially producing 50 million vaccine doses a year, will be in Rwanda and Senegal. BioNTech has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Institut Pasteur de Dakar for a factory in Senegal.

The two factories will produce the vaccine doses, then take on all the final production steps and bottling, known as ‘fill and finish’. Their output would meet about 2% of Africa’s needs.

“Efforts to boost vaccine manufacturing in Africa are welcome but this is a long-term project and should not distract from the failure of rich country governments and companies, including Germany and BioNTech, to tackle today’s shameful vaccine inequality responsible for millions of needless deaths in poorer countries from this pandemic,” said Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager, Anna Marriott, said.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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