WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the Stakeholder Engagement Event: Progress made so far on implementing the partnerships for vaccine manufacturing in Africa

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Your Excellency President Paul Kagame,

Your Excellencies, colleagues and friends,

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

When we last spoke in April, vaccines had already been rolling out around the world for four months.

Since then, some countries have managed to vaccinate the majority of their populations, and are well on their way to widespread coverage with boosters.

But back in April, most of the world’s countries, including most African countries, did not have anywhere near enough vaccines to cover all health workers, or all at-risk groups, never mind the rest of their populations.

That remains the case.

More than 80% of the world’s vaccines have gone to G20 countries; low-income countries, most of them in Africa, have received just 0.6% of all vaccines.

We’re pleased that COVAX and AVAT are now picking up speed as supply increases, but we are still a long way from reaching our targets to vaccinate 40% of the population of all countries by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year.

More than 100 countries still have not reached the 40% target, and more than half of those, mostly in Africa, are at risk of missing it by the end of the year, mainly because they cannot access the vaccines they need.

We have often said as long as vaccine inequity persists, the more opportunity the virus has to spread and mutate in ways no one can prevent or predict.

And so, we have Omicron.

I thank South Africa and Botswana for rapidly detecting, sequencing and reporting this new variant.

It is deeply disappointing to me that some countries continue to block direct flights from southern Africa due to the Omicron variant.

The persistent inequity in access to vaccines, and the emergence of the Omicron variant, show why the world needs more widespread, regionally based vaccine production, as well as intellectual property reform to share these vital global health public goods, technology transfer, sharing of knowhow, and training.

At the same time, there has been progress since we last met in April.

First, as you know a month ago the Africa Medicines Agency treaty entered into force, paving the way to improve the quality, safety, efficacy, availability and affordability of medicines and vaccines across the continent. We will continue to provide technical and financial support until Africa Medicines Agency is ready.

Second, Egypt, Morocco, Rwanda and Senegal have all signed agreements or Memorandums of Understanding for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing in their countries, and Algeria has begun production.

Third, WHO and partners have established an mRNA technology transfer hub in South Africa to boost vaccine production on the continent.

It brings together WHO, the Medicines Patent Pool, Afrigen Biologics Limited, the Biologicals and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa, and the South African Medical Research Council, and Africa CDC.

Fourth, WHO has established a vaccine industry talent development program, in partnership with MasterCard Foundation, with a focus on Africa.

And fifth, the coordinated development of local manufacturing capacity on the continent in partnership with the Team Europe Initiative on manufacturing and access to medicines, vaccines and health technologies.

At its summit in October, the G20 issued a declaration saying it would support increasing vaccine distribution, administration and local manufacturing capacity in low and lower-middle income countries.

This includes support of technology transfer hubs, such as the newly established mRNA Hubs in South Africa, Brazil and Argentina, and through joint production and processing arrangements.

One of the biggest challenges we face is increasing the supply of skilled workforce with training in biomanufacturing.

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.

So, this is not just about COVID-19. There will always be more disease outbreaks and epidemics. That’s why local production of vaccines is so critical.

WHO remains committed to working with the AU, its Member States, the Africa CDC, the African Medicines Agency, and the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing, 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.