Updated: Feb 10
February 9, 2021 / 15.30 PM --
Between 70%-90% of pharmaceuticals used in Africa are still imported
Less than 1% of vaccines used across Africa manufactured within the continent
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed Africa’s inadequate capabilities and capacity to manufacture, supply essential drugs and personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to curb the disease. The crisis has exposed longstanding fragilities in Africa’s health systems, including gaps in healthcare personnel, infrastructure, supplies, equipment, and data systems.
Vaccine production in Africa has largely failed to launch. In general manufacturers within the continent currently produce less than 1% of the vaccines that are used across the continent. According to some reports, many manufacturers ceased production over the last 25 years due to the inability to compete with imported vaccines.
Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at Witwatersrand University, South Africa, said Africa has not invested enough in developing its own COVID-19 vaccines. Professor Madhi said the continent is unfortunately faced by the consequence of poor funding in the field of science, resulting in it being last on the queue.
“The failure is not only on the side of government but on the side of academia and the private sector as well. It's not useful to start throwing a lot of money to researchers when a crisis is upon you, planning is what needs to take place," he added.
Professor Madhi who is also the Director of the South Africa Medical Research Council’s Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit, and leads the South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial said investment in the part of vaccines is nominal in the entire continent.
“It is for this reason that Africa finds itself at the mercy of other countries and manufactures,” the professor said.
African universities are central to ensuring acceptance of vaccines in the continent as they are well-placed to lobby national governments and their immediate communities.
Can Africa set up its own manufacturing capabilities?
The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to tip the scales in favor of accelerating local vaccine production in Africa.
There are calls for African universities to join forces with the pharmaceutical industry and funding organizations to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines in the continent.
Between 70%-90% of pharmaceuticals used in Africa are still imported. Local manufacturing sectors are poised with latent capacity, and bolstering local production is being urgently prioritized by the continent in the face of COVID-19 related shortages.
Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC) has identified and is working with eight companies in Africa that may be able to help manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, particularly if booster shots are needed on an ongoing basis. These companies could serve as sites for future vaccine production across Africa.
The Biovac Institute, a Cape Town-based joint venture between the government and private sector, could produce up to 30 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines per year, depending on the technology involved, Chief Executive Morena Makhoana recently told Reuters.
According to Johannesburg-based medical analyst, Dr. Sibusiso Nguse, in the face of this global shortfall, there are calls to scale up vaccine production capacity in the continent that is growing louder. Dr. Sibusiso said major barriers faced by the continent include a fragmented vaccine market, high cost of production, the complexity of manufacturing, and absence of political will to invest.
“There is a need for urgent capital investments and political mandate. We are rich in resources and manpower. But due to lack of investment, we are still moving around with a begging bowl asking for something that we can produce. Dependence on donor funding has become a threat to sustaining health programs,” he said.
The pharmaceutical industry in Africa is one of the fastest-growing in the world, driven by a small number of countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, some Eastern African and North Africa countries.
“The production of pharmaceuticals on the continent is important given the need not only to tackle the pandemic but other local diseases where there is no investment case for large external pharmaceutical companies,” Dr. Nguse said.
African's vaccine perception
According to Kasi Insight Covid-19 tracker, the perception around the vaccine is not even amongst the countries tracked. In fact, the perception has evolved over the past 6 months as more information about the vaccine and data on the rollout are made available.
On average a third of the people we surveyed said they will take the vaccine as soon as it is available. In Nigeria, 4 out of 10 people will take it while in South Africa, 2 out of 10 people will take it once it’s ready.
According to a survey conducted by the Africa CDC in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, many Africans appear willing to be vaccinated.
The survey revealed that nearly 80% of adults in 15 African countries said they would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it was safe and effective, according to the survey released on the 17th of December 2020.
Also, a survey by the University of Johannesburg and the Human Sciences Research Council has found that 67% of adults would definitely or probably take a Covid-19 vaccine if it's available. Bongani speaks to Professor Carin Runciman, director at the Centre for Social Change at the University of Johannesburg.
Building better insights around the COVID vaccine is critical since its widespread administration will be essential to the successful re-opening of the economy and society.
Misinformation, herbs, prayers dominating COVID-19 vaccine response in Africa
Despite many African politicians fighting covid-19 with tools prescribed by science, some have turned to herbs or prayer as well as spreading misinformation.
Recently Tanzania President Dr. John Pombe Mangufuli expressed doubt over the efficacies of the Western-backed inoculations. Magufuli has warned the country’s health ministry against rushing into embracing the Covid-19 vaccines promoted by foreign companies and countries.
He cast doubt on the global urge to develop the Covid-19 vaccine claiming that little has been done to help cure other diseases like tuberculosis, HIV-Aids, malaria among other infections.
“You should stand firm. Vaccinations are dangerous. If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, he should have found a vaccination for Aids by now; he would have found a vaccination of tuberculosis by now; he would have found a vaccination for malaria by now; he would have found a vaccination for cancer by now,” Magufuli told Al Jazeera.
Tanzania is among the first countries in Africa to order for the touted Madagascar Covid herb in the fights against the virus.
Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina is the promoter-in-chief of the substance, marketed as Covid-Organics and sold in the form of a herbal infusion.
Artemisia annua has a long history in its native China, where scientists discovered an active ingredient that made the plant a front-line weapon in the fight against malaria.
Some of the countries that have received shipments from Madagascar include the Republic of the Congo and Guinea-Bissau. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Africa CDC have offered to support the design of a study to test the efficacy of the organic product.
Zimbabweans turning to zumbani
In Zimbabwe, zumbani is selling like hotcakes. Zumbani, scientifically known as Lippia javanica is caffeine-free and contains flavonoids and phenolic compounds that are water-soluble. These compounds possess antioxidant qualities. Zumbani tea is exceptionally low in tannin (much lower than rooibos).
Zumbani has several beneficial nutritional and medicinal components which make it both food and medicine. But WHO Zimbabwe said steam inhalation does not cure COVID-19 no matter how hot the steam is, “it will not reach the virus.”
The Chinese factor
Despite receiving lots of criticism due to the lack of clinical trials and public data on the safety and efficiency of Chinese COVID-19 vaccines, several countries are gearing up for it. Some of the issues raised include several legal, ethical, scientific, and health aspects.
China has started rolling out Covid-19 vaccine aid to its strategic partners, including Zimbabwe, as the world’s second-largest economy steps up efforts to contain the deadly pandemic.
China’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe Guo Shaochun recently announced on Twitter, that Harare would soon receive the jabs. He said Zimbabwe will be one of the first 14 countries to receive vaccine aid from China very soon.
According to a report in the University World News, Ifeanyi McWilliams Nsofor, the director of policy and advocacy for Nigeria Health Watch said African universities must stand against the use of Chinese vaccines until they are proven to be safe and efficacious via independent peer review mechanisms.
Nsofor, who is also Senior New Voices fellow at the US-based Aspen Institute and senior Atlantic fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University, said universities had to be proactive and should insist that regulatory authorities on the African continent follow science before approving Covid-19 vaccines in Africa.
This is because, without a doubt, any adverse reactions that might occur following vaccination could lead to vaccine hesitancy and derail efforts to vaccinate Africans, he told the publication.
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