Nigeria’s minister of health, Osagie Ehanire, has said 99 per cent of vaccines administered on the African continent are imported.
Mr Ehanire, while speaking at the launch of the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa, (CoDA) Independent Task Team on Equitable and Universal Access to Vaccines and Vaccination in Africa, said only one per cent of vaccines is produced in Africa, a continent of more than 1.2 billion people.
“Africa, with 54 countries and 1.2 billion people, produces only 1 per cent of the vaccines it administers, with 99 per cent imported,” he said.
The launch, which was held on Monday at the Igbinedion University Teaching Hospital (IUTH), Okada Town, Edo State, had in attendance medical experts, researchers and policymakers from nations across the continent.
CoDA is an initiative of the Africa Union created to discuss and begin the process of vaccine development and distribution within the African continent.
Mr Ehanire said although the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be receding in wealthier nations with easy access to COVID-19 vaccines, vaccine coverage in African countries has been off to a slow start.
The health minister attributes this to inequitable distribution and fiscal constraints on available vaccines.
“The supply is outstripped by global demand, especially in low-income countries, Africa being worst hit with barely 2 per cent of the population vaccinated, compared with 30 per cent to 60 per cent in developed countries,” he said.
Mr Ehanire said the partnership of African countries to push, as one, for vaccine availability for the entire continent is an excellent approach, which Nigeria subscribes to under the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) and registered to access vaccines for 50 per cent of the population.
He said the challenges of financing, empowering regulatory bodies to meet global standards, raising research capacity, and getting advance government procurement commitments, can be surmounted if there is unity of purpose in Africa.
“Our continent now has a unique opportunity, not to be missed, to press for manufacturing capability for COVID-19 vaccines, to satisfy the needs of the continent,” he said.
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) recently said it is important for all countries to access vaccines to reduce the risk of the virus spreading further and the threat of mutant strains.
It warned that without urgently ensuring fair and equitable access to supply, the world will continue to be at risk of deadly virus mutations.
“Status quo unacceptable”
In his remarks, Lucky Igbinedion, former governor of Edo State and deputy chancellor of the university, said the low COVID-19 vaccination figures on the Africa continent is unacceptable.
Mr Igbinedion noted that although Africa is the least affected by the pandemic, it has been the most disadvantaged in terms of response because of the scarcity of the simple tools needed for appropriate response.
“Such tools include intensive care units, medical oxygen, ventilators, personal protective equipment, test kits, medicines, other medical supplies, and most importantly at this time vaccines needed to vaccinate the populations,” he said.
He said the scarcity is because Africa manufactures only a little fraction of its medical equipment and health commodities supplies.
He added, “with only about one per cent of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Africa is far behind in vaccination.
“This is unacceptable in a continent of about 1.3 billion people who have very high intellectual capacity and vast resources.”
Mr Igbinedion, however, said the region still has a great opportunity to salvage its health system and strengthen its public health emergency response.
He explained that the continent has some of the best scientists in the world, some of whom have been involved in developing the current COVID-19 vaccines.
“It is my belief that Africa can build on the current progress in vaccine research, development and manufacturing to solve the problems of infectious diseases on the continent, by scaling up research and building capacity towards production and manufacturing,” he said.
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