(Al Jazeera) The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced the first six countries that will receive the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines in Africa, in the latest effort to boost production on the continent.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday that Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia have been selected to ramp up jabs production on the continent.
“No other event like the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that reliance on a few companies to supply global public goods is limiting, and dangerous,” said Tedros during a ceremony hosted by the European Council, France, South Africa and the WHO.
“In the mid-to-long term, the best way to address health emergencies and reach universal health coverage is to significantly increase the capacity of all regions to manufacture the health products they need, with equitable access as their primary endpoint,” he added.
Established in 2021, the global mRNA technology transfer hub was set up to ensure that low- and middle-income countries had all the operating procedures and know-how to produce their own jabs at scale and according to international standards.
As used in the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, mRNA technology provokes an immune response by delivering genetic molecules containing the code for key parts of a pathogen into human cells.
The announcement came as Africa, home to some 1.3 billion people, has been struggling to get enough vaccines while wealthier nations received most of the world’s supplies. Currently, 17 percent of the African population has received at least one dose – a figure that rises to 75 and 76 percent in the European Union and the United States respectively, according to Our World in Data.
The hub’s set-up is important considering that Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna – the main producer of mRNA vaccines – all declined a WHO request to share their technology and expertise. Currently, only one percent of the vaccines used in Africa are produced on the continent.
“This is mRNA technology designed in Africa, led by Africa and owned by Africa,” said EU’s chief Ursula von der Leyen during the ceremony. “A perfect example of what we can achieve when we pool together,” she added on Twitter.
The WHO said it would work with the first six countries chosen to develop a roadmap of training and support so they can start producing vaccines as soon as possible. Training will begin in March.
The South African hub is already producing mRNA vaccines at laboratory scale and is currently scaling up towards a commercial scale.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “This is an initiative that will allow us to make our own vaccines and that, to us, is very important. It means mutual respect, mutual recognition of what we can all bring to the party, investment in our economies, infrastructure investment and, in many ways, giving back to the continent.”