By Betha Madhomu
South Africa is set to host a technology transfer hub for coronavirus vaccines, President Cyril Ramphosa has announced, adding that this is a first step towards Africa producing its own vaccines in the future.
Ramaphosa said this on Monday, during a joint virtual press conference with French President Emanual Macron, facilitated by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Technology transfer hubs are training facilities where the technology is established at industrial scale and clinical development performed, according to a WHO press release.
“Interested manufacturers from low- and middle-income countries can receive training and any necessary licenses to the technology. WHO and partners will bring in the production know-how, quality control and necessary licenses to a single entity to facilitate a broad and rapid technology transfer to multiple recipients,” the statement says.
Ramaphosa said the hub was the start of a process, and the laying of a foundation for health security for the world’s most vulnerable.
This afternoon, H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa, H.E. President Emmanuel Macron of France and the DG of WHO, Dr. Tedros participated in a press briefing to announce the establishment of a first vaccine technology hub in South Africa. @WHO @DIRCO_ZA @HealthZA #VaccineEquity 🇿🇦 pic.twitter.com/L0Z8N5eMuI
— South African Mission – UN, Geneva (@SAfrPMUN_Geneva) June 21, 2021
“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the full extent of the vaccine gap between developed and developing economies, and how that gap can severely undermine global health security.
“This landmark initiative is a major advance in the international effort to build vaccine development and manufacturing capacity that will put Africa on a path to self-determination.
“South Africa welcomes the opportunity to host a vaccine technology transfer hub and to build on the capacity and expertise that already exists on the continent to contribute to this effort,” said Ramaphosa.
Macron, who called Ramaphosa “my friend”, said this partnership was the result of his state visit to South Africa at the end of last month.
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Macron said his country was committed to supporting efforts in Africa to scale up local manufacturing capacity of Covid-19 vaccines and other medical solutions.
“Today is a great day for Africa. It is also a great day for all those who work towards a more equitable access to health products. I am proud for Biovac and our South African partners to have been selected by WHO, as France has been supporting them for years,” said Macron.
He added: “This initiative is the first of a long list to come, that we will keep supporting, with our partners, united in the belief that acting for global public goods is the fight of the century and that it cannot wait.”
It was not immediately clear when the hub would be set up but WHO’s chief scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, said it could take a few months.
Expression for Interest
“The timelines of when vaccines could be produced in the country will depend on whether there is tried and tested technology that can be much more easily transferred to the facility in SA which already exists …
“We could expect to see within nine to 12 months vaccines being produced in South Africa. We would like to take it step by step and within the next few weeks we should be able to provide further details on the technology and when the work actually begins. We will try to do it as quickly as possible,” she said.
South Africa’s Biovac Institute, which has a partnership with France, has partnered with Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a network of universities, and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to establish Africa’s first Covid messenger RNA vaccine technology transfer hub.
The World Health Organisation on April 16, issued a call for Expression of Interest to establish such hubs to scale-up production and access to Covid-19 vaccines, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Vaccine inequity has demonstrated that in a crisis, low-income countries can’t rely on vaccine-producing countries to supply their needs.
Delighted to announce with my brother President @CyrilRamaphosa, that we’re in discussions to establish a technology transfer hub in 🇿🇦. https://t.co/D8xL6fU5xU pic.twitter.com/ikVNUGVz9h
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) June 21, 2021
“This is great news, particularly for Africa, which has the least access to vaccines. COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of local production to address health emergencies, strengthen regional health security and expand sustainable access to health products,” Ghebreyesus said.
Earlier, Ramaphosa lambasted pharmaceutical companies and allied Western governments for their resistance to calls by India and South Africa for temporary waivers to scale up production of Covid-19 vaccines.
Ramaphosa was speaking during the opening virtual session of the Qatar Economic Forum on Monday.
“Well, we see that their refusal to waive this intellectual property provision that they have is part of vaccinationalism and we just don’t understand the sense of it all because all we are asking for together with India is that there should be a waiver for a three-year period to enable countries that have a capability to be able to produce the vaccines.
New Perspectives for Tomorrow – Opening Session of the #QatarEconomicForum #BetterAfricaBetterWorldhttps://t.co/4XZNyqiSyo
— Cyril Ramaphosa 🇿🇦 #StaySafe (@CyrilRamaphosa) June 21, 2021
“India and South Africa have the capability and so do a number of other countries in the developing economic countries, particularly on the African continent.
“And we say the continued refusal leads to inequality on vaccines. We are facing an emergency that is affecting the entire world and it is wholly unfair and wholly unjust that pharmaceutical companies as well as certain countries are refusing to allow this provision to be waved so that there can be mass production of these vaccines, so that we can save lives,” said Ramaphosa.