Sharing technology and supporting innovation is not just about fairness. It is also the best way to stop pandemics

By Paul Kagame, President, Rwanda; Emmanuel Macron, President, France; Cyril Ramaphosa, President, South Africa; Macky Sall, President, Senegal; Olaf Scholz, Chancellor, Germany; and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General.

Inequity has plagued responses to harmful pathogens. Take COVID-19 as an example: an unprecedented 11.9 billion doses of vaccine have been administered worldwide, helping many countries turn the tide of the pandemic. Yet more than 80% of people in Africa have not received a dose, some 18 months since the first person was vaccinated. As long as this gap exists, we cannot protect the world against new variants of the virus and end the acute stage of this pandemic.

Thanks to groundbreaking innovation, effective vaccines were developed in record time to protect against COVID-19. However, at the beginning of the vaccination campaign, there was a concentration of the production of vaccines and other health technologies in a few, mostly wealthy, countries. The poorest nations finished at the back of the queue. The situation has changed since then, with global supply outstripping global demand. The international community, led through ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX facility, has played a crucial role to this end, confirming that the response to scourges such as COVID-19 requires extensive preparation and new ways of working to protect public health. .

The central challenges now are how to ensure vaccines remain effective, increase the capabilities of the national public health system to deliver doses and increase vaccine uptake, and counter the widespread winds of misinformation that are fueling vaccine hesitancy.

An obvious lesson from this pandemic is that we must expand local and regional production of vaccines and other essential health products in low- and middle-income countries. This will allow both direct access to vaccines and the development of local vaccine production ecosystems. It will make supply in the next crisis more reliable and more equitable, as long as global supply chains are not interrupted.

The World Health Organization (WHO), the African Union, the European Union, the Governments of South Africa, Rwanda, Senegal, Germany and France, and their partners, are working to help the industry and its partners increase local production. of vaccines and improve vaccine production globally and regionally. collaboration to prevent and respond to future pandemics. Collectively investing to ensure that all regions of the world have state-of-the-art production infrastructure, trained personnel, and institutional and regulatory arrangements is a valuable asset for our common health security.

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WHO is supporting a multilateral effort to create and spread mRNA technology in developing countries.

A year ago, WHO, South Africa and the Medicines Patent Pool established a technology transfer center for mRNA vaccines in Cape Town, with support from the EU, France, Germany and other local and international partners. The goal of the center is to spread this technology in developing countries by training and licensing manufacturers to produce their own vaccines for national and regional use.

With the support of donors, the center is already producing results. Scientists have designed a new mRNA vaccine based on publicly available information. Local manufacturers from Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe have been selected to receive the technology. Medicines Patent Pool partners are ready to help license technologies. A new initiative of the African Development Bank, the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation (APTF), may also contribute.

Parts of the private sector are also stepping up. Last month’s groundbreaking ceremony in Rwanda for Africa’s first mRNA production facility, built by the German company BioNTech, is another example of efforts by African countries to work with partners to become more resilient in the face of pandemics. Similar facilities are planned in Senegal, in collaboration with Ghana for fill and finish services.

mRNA technology is not just for fighting COVID-19. It can be adapted to tackle other diseases, such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and leishmaniasis, putting countries in the driver’s seat to produce the tools needed to meet their health needs. At a recent summit in Kigali, BioNTech pledged to complete its malaria vaccine program and manufacture any licensed products in Africa. The WHO mRNA Center program in South Africa already has its sights set on developing a broad set of vaccines and other products to tackle disease threats, including insulin to treat diabetes, anticancer drugs and potentially , vaccines for other priority diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. and HIV.

Building a vaccine production facility is difficult, but ensuring its sustainability is even more difficult.

First, there is a need to build workforce capacity by providing specific training for staff working in these facilities. WHO is addressing this gap through a biomanufacturing training center in the Republic of Korea, which operates within the framework of the WHO Academy, based in Lyon, France, to help developing countries produce no not only vaccines, but also insulin, monoclonal antibodies and cancer treatments. . Rwanda recently launched the African Biofabrication Institute (ABI), an innovative structure that brings together training providers from industry and universities to train the local workforce.

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Second, the production of health products requires strong regulatory capabilities to ensure quality standards and approve final products. WHO and its partners are investing in strengthening regulatory agencies in Africa and beyond. The African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the African Union Development Agency have been working with regulators on the continent and in high-income countries to increase their capacity. And the African Medicines Agency (AMA), which will be based in Rwanda, has come into being and will become Africa’s continental medicines regulator.

Stronger regulatory agencies in developing countries will also improve confidence in locally produced products and counter misinformation and the availability of unsafe counterfeit medicines.

Third, new production facilities will depend heavily on a sustainable and competitive market environment in which suppliers of vaccines and other new pharmaceuticals are prepared to purchase these life-saving tools. We recognize the need for current and future African vaccine-producing countries to access vaccine procurement platforms, such as GAVI, among others. Regional and continental market shaping strategies, as outlined by the Association for African Vaccine Manufacturing, can ensure the sustainability of ongoing efforts, with leading market shaping agencies and partners such as Unitaid ready to support. The G7 leaders have also addressed this issue and have called on the relevant international players to work on a joint market shaping strategy.

At the recent World Health Assembly, there was consensus that building strong and sustainable manufacturing capacity in developing countries is essential for a safer world.

WHO Member States also discussed the need for a new Pandemic Agreement, because an interconnected world requires globally agreed standards and mechanisms to ensure strong coordination in times of acute health crises.

And, importantly, governments recognized that additional funding is urgently needed to make essential investments in pandemic preparedness and response capacities in countries, regions and globally. In this regard, we welcome the newly established Financial Intermediation Fund for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response, hosted by the World Bank, with WHO playing the central technical leadership role.

We know that the next outbreak is a matter of when, not if. Time is of the essence to intensify collaboration and drive local manufacturing and build trust in locally made products, so that we are better prepared next time.

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