As researchers around the world race to find effective protection against the COVID-19 virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) in Africa has called on countries in the region to take concrete actions to ensure equitable access to vaccines.
It said globally, there are nearly 150 COVID-19 vaccine candidates and currently 19 are in clinical trials.
In a statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said African countries always end up at the back of the queue for new technologies, which include vaccines.
He said equity must be a central focus when the COVID-19 vaccines are eventually released.
“It is clear that as the international community comes together to develop safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19, equity must be a central focus of these efforts.
“Too often, African countries end up at the back of the queue for new technologies, including vaccines. These life-saving products must be available to everyone, not only those who can afford to pay,” Moeti said.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, had in a video message to the Global Vaccine Summit said there is a need for global solidarity to ensure that every person, everywhere, has access to the vaccine.
The summit was convened to find and fund collective solutions for COVID-19-related vaccines and to strengthen routine immunisation commitments and resources for other preventable diseases.
COVID-19 is now the greatest public health crisis of a generation and it has moved vaccines to the top of the global agenda.
According to WHO, South Africa is the first country on the continent to start a clinical trial with the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg testing a vaccine developed by the Oxford Jenner Institute in the United Kingdom.
“The South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial is expected to involve 2000 volunteers aged 18–65 years and include some people living with HIV.
“The vaccine is already undergoing trials in the United Kingdom and Brazil with thousands of participants.”
Mr Moeti said it is important to test the COVID-19 vaccine in countries where it is needed to ensure that it will be effective.
He encourages countries in the region to participate in these trials to ensure involvement of Africa population.
“I encourage more countries in the region to join these trials so that the contexts and immune response of populations in Africa are factored into studies.
“Africa has the scientific expertise to contribute widely to the search for an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
“Indeed, our researchers have helped develop vaccines which provide protection against communicable diseases such as meningitis, Ebola, yellow fever and a number of other common health threats in the region,” Mr Moeti said.
According to the statement, the African Union has endorsed the need for Africa to develop a framework to actively engage in the development and access to COVID-19 vaccines.
“Countries can take steps now that will strengthen health systems, improve immunization delivery, and pave the way for the introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“These include: mobilizing financial resources; strengthening local vaccine manufacturing, and regulatory, supply and distribution systems; building workforce skills and knowledge; enhancing outreach services; and listening to community concerns to counter misinformation,” it said.