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Opening Ceremony of the High-level virtual Conference on expanding Africa’s vaccine manufacturing for health security

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African Union and Africa CDC

Your Excellency President Felix Tshisekedi,

Your Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa,

Your Excellency President Paul Kagame,

Your Excellency [President] Moussa Faki Mahamat,

Excellencies, distinguished guests, dear colleagues and friends,

Good afternoon and thank you so much for the opportunity to share a few reflections with you today.

The development, approval and rollout of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 is giving us all hope of bringing the pandemic under control.

Around the world, 194 countries and economies have now started vaccination, and 26 have not.

COVAX has now delivered more than 38 million doses of vaccine to 105 countries and economies in the past six weeks.

We’re encouraged that almost all countries who want to start vaccinating have now started.

However, I emphasize the word start. Most countries, including most African countries, do not have anywhere near enough vaccines to cover all health workers, or all at-risk groups, never mind the rest of their populations.

There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines as I have said many times.

More than 700 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, but over 87% have gone to high income or upper middle-income countries, while low income countries have received just 0.2%.

The pandemic has shown that global manufacturing capacity and supply chains are not sufficient to deliver vaccines and other essential health products quickly and equitably to where they are needed most.

That is why building up vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa is so important, and I appreciate specific proposal that President Kagame and President Ramaphosa made earlier.

Investing in sustainable and secure domestic manufacturing capacity and national regulatory authorities is critical for providing essential immunization programmes, and for building strong, resilient health systems against the inevitable health emergencies of the future.

WHO joins countries around the world that are calling on vaccine manufacturers to remove obstacles that are preventing access to critical health products.

We continue to call on companies to share know-how, intellectual property and data with other qualified vaccine manufacturers, including in low-and middle-income countries.

Making this work will require a coherent business plan based on coordination from regional economic communities, government support and sustainable financing.

To address this challenge, WHO and our partners have established a COVAX manufacturing taskforce, to increase supply in the short term, but also to build a platform for sustainable vaccine manufacturing to support regional health security.

Let me leave you with three specific ways in which the African Union and its Member States can support local production, and how WHO is ready to support you:

First, we urge AU Member States to explore every option for increasing production, including voluntary licences, technology pools, the use of TRIPS flexibilities and the waiver of certain intellectual property provisions.

To facilitate technology transfer, WHO continues to call on funders and manufacturers to use the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP, as a voluntary mechanism for sharing intellectual property, knowledge and data.

WHO is ready to provide immediate technical support to assist countries in assessing the feasibility of local production, and in accessing technology and know-how.

Second, we urge AU Member States to build strong regulatory capacity.

WHO is ready to provide support for national regulatory authorities to become WHO listed authorities, as an important enabler for successful technology transfer and market entry of health products.

The proposed African Medicines Agency will also play a vital role in regional regulatory capacity, and we are supporting the effort and I renew my call for all AU Member States to ratify the AMA treaty.

I also congratulate my brother Michel Sidibé on his appointment as the new Special Envoy for the African Medicines Agency.

And third, we encourage all AU Member States to support the draft resolution on strengthening local production of medicines and other health technologies led by Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda, Brazil, China and others, and which will be considered at the World Health Assembly.

My sisters and brothers,

Even before the pandemic, we knew that strengthening local production in Africa would be an essential part of our continent’s journey towards universal health coverage.

Now it is evident just how urgent this is. We must seize this moment.

WHO is resolutely committed to working with the AU, its Member States and the Africa CDC to support the development of domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity, as part of our shared efforts to build a healthier, safer, fairer future for Africa.

I thank you.