President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: SIYABULELA DUDA
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: SIYABULELA DUDA

Africa member states need to start planning for the development and distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine, AU chair President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday.

Ramaphosa said the continent’s leaders, as well as experts and other stakeholders, need to create a roadmap to produce a vaccine that is effective, safe and affordable. It is essential that there be vaccine manufacturing on the continent, he said.

“The challenges and efforts needed to rapidly develop, evaluate and produce such a vaccine at scale are enormous, as are the resources required to ensure sufficient coverage across a continent as vast and populous as ours, Therefore, we need to act with urgency,” he said.

Ramaphosa wants the continent to work together the way it has with the Africa medical supplies portal, which is a single, continental marketplace for countries to access critical medical supplies during the Covid-19 pandemic.

SA is spearheading the first trial in Africa to test a Covid-19 vaccine. The trial, which began on Wednesday, is led by Wits University professor Shabir Madhi, who is a global leader in vaccine development.

The vaccine was developed by the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, where it has already been tested on more than 7,000 people to see if it is safe and effective. It is one of six Covid-19 vaccines in trials worldwide. There are 268 vaccines in development against the coronavirus.

Ramaphosa said African leaders need to join efforts and negotiate with global donors to raise funds, as well as mobilise resources in their own countries and on the continent to secure supply of the vaccine upfront.

“We need to start to plan now and to improve the infrastructure in each of our countries to prepare for the rollout of the vaccine. This includes accelerating regulatory approvals, strengthening supply chains and improving our ability to deliver the vaccine to the population,” he said.

He said Africa also needs to support the contribution of scientists on the continent, and healthcare professionals, to the vaccine effort.

He also said the pandemic underscores the essential value of maintaining funding for medical research even after the current health crisis has passed, so that Africa can be ready for the next pandemic. “Let us be prepared and let us be ready to work towards a much more responsive and equitable medical system.”

quintalg@businesslive.co.za