Thursday, January 28, 2021

Pretoria: Chairperson of the African Union (AU), President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on the World Trade Organization to waiver specific Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) obligations related to the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 for a defined period.

Together with India, South Africa has proposed a TRIPS waiver in response to the pandemic.

“We need more countries to support this initiative. This would enable countries in Africa and elsewhere to access active pharmaceutical ingredients and benefit from technology transfer, including the know-how to manufacture vaccines in Africa at a cheaper cost,” he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, the President addressed a webinar on the Africa COVID-19 Vaccine Financing and Development Strategy, which was attended by Ministers of Health and Ministers of Finance of the AU Member States as well as experts, private sector leaders, and civil society representatives.

“The task before us is to step up global solidarity to ensure equitable access to the vaccines. All countries must get vaccines and must get them speedily.

“It is vital to the global containment of COVID-19 that vaccination takes place in all countries and among all populations. No part of the world will be safe from COVID until all parts of the world are safe,” the President said.

He noted challenges of accessing vaccines for the Global South, particularly for Africa.

“The developed North, which has substantial financial resources, has purchased the largest stocks, while we in Africa are struggling to get our fair share. The painful irony is that some of the clinical trials for these vaccines were carried out in Africa.

“In other cases, vaccines are packaged right here on the continent, yet we struggle to access them for our populations,” President Ramaphosa said.

He said vaccine prices are high, and many countries may not afford to vaccinate enough of their population to achieve herd immunity.

Effort to secure COVID-19 vaccine

Earlier this month, the President convened a meeting of the African Union Bureau to discuss the work undertaken by the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

“It is estimated that Africa will only be able to access around 20% of vaccines needed through the COVAX facility. We therefore found it necessary to complement this facility to ensure health workers are vaccinated soonest and countries reach herd immunity faster.

“We have secured a provisional 270 million vaccine doses for African countries through the Task Team. At least 50 million will be available from April to June 2021,” the President said.

These doses are from three major suppliers namely, Pfizer, AstraZeneca through the Serum Institute of India and Johnson & Johnson.

As a result of the high cost of vaccines, the Task Team has arranged with Afreximbank to support member states who want to access these vaccines based on a whole-of-Africa approach.

“Should countries submit firm offers, Afreximbank has committed to provide advance procurement commitment guarantees of up to US$2 billion to the manufacturers on behalf of member states.

“The AU team and the World Bank are collaborating to ensure that member states can have access to further funding,” the President said.

Ramaphosa expressed appreciation for MTN’S offer to donate $25 million to the vaccine programme of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) to immunise health workers in Africa.

“This is solidarity in action. We call upon other companies, both of African origin and offshore companies that do business in Africa, to do what MTN has done to contribute financially to enable African countries to immunise their target groups,” the President said