By Kemi Yesufu
A critical step towards vaccine production by African countries was taken on Monday, with the launch of the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA) Independent Taskforce On Equitable and Universal Access To Vaccines and Vaccinations.
Speaking at the launch held at the Igbinedion University Okada, Edo State, former President of Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo and chairman of the board of CoDA said with the inauguration of the taskforce, Africa is finally galvanizing resources in order to deal with one of its major challenges. Obasanjo was represented at the event by former United Nations Under Secretary for Central Africa and co-founder of CoDA, Mr. Abdoulaye Bathily.
“I have always believed that Africa’s main challenge is not the lack of funds or resources. Our main challenge is the inability to harness available resources to provide customized home-grown solutions needed to address the challenges we see across the continent.
“Many of our researchers, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are constantly being drawn out of the continent to serve in other continents. They use their intellect to serve the needs of other continents, and most times without being duly credited or acknowledge for their intellectual investments, while our own health systems are underdeveloped. We need to reverse this trend and begin to take actions to harness our local resources to solve our local problems”, he said.
“Through initiatives like this one, Africa will be able to encourage and retain its talents and support them in finding solutions to its age-long healthcare challenges. The initiative we are launching today is one of those initiatives that will help Africa look inwards to identify and channel available resources to areas where they are needed”, Obasanjo added.
Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki in his address at the event described the launch of the CoDA taskforce as timely. He said Africa has to address health inequalities between developed and developing nations like those found on the continent.
Minister of Health, Dr. Mike Ehanire lauded the initiative by the African Union body, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has shown Africans why the continent must invest in self-sufficiency, especially in the area of vaccination.
Ehanire who presented his speech virtually said Africa must resolve the issues around funding and building capacity.
He said: “Africa, with 54 countries and 1.2 billion people, produces only 1% of the vaccines it administers, with 99% imported. 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. Nigeria will bid for international support to produce COVID-19 vaccines for Africa, an initiative for which I hereby also solicit support from “Independent Task Team on Equitable and Universal Access to Vaccines and Vaccination in Africa”, since we have learnt, as part of lessons from the COVID-19 experience, that we cannot indefinitely continue to depend on to meet the needs of Africans”.
Deputy Chancellor of the Igbinedion University Okada and former Edo State governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, explained in his keynote address that the institution recognised that Africa must scale up research to improve healthcare delivery and to make the continent better prepared for difficult situations such as the recent pandemic.
He stated that the ‘Centre of Excellence’ for vaccine research housed in the Igbinedion University Teaching Hospital will not duplicate efforts, rather it will compliment other useful interventions. The research centre is the product of an MoU signed by CoDA and Igbinedion University.
“ It is my believe 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.
“On this note, Igbinedion University Okada is delighted to champion this new initiative that will facilitate the development, manufacturing and distribution of vaccines in Africa. And we are fortunate to have found a suitable ally in CoDA, an institution with a similar vision and ready to work with us on this laudable initiative”, he said.
“We recognize other actions currently being taken by the African Union, Africa CDC, the World Health Organization, and other partners across the continent, and I would like to emphasize that our initiative is not meant to duplicate what is already being done. The initiative will complement all other efforts to ensure that Africa becomes self-sufficient in vaccine development and production” he added.
Earlier in her welcome address, Executive-Director of the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA), Ms. Soud Adon-Osman said Monday’s launch of the taskforce headed by the Chief Medical Director of the Igbinedion University Teaching Hospital, Professor Godwin Bazuaye, with her as secretary, represents Africa’s decision to take its destiny into its own hands.