Remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the high-level dialogue on the future of vaccine manufacturing in Africa at the University of Pretoria.
This seminar provides a vivid demonstration that South Africa has the expertise, the experience and the capacity to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, and to do so to the strictest standards of safety and quality.
We are not alone.
There are several other sites across the continent with vaccine manufacturing capacity, including Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal. Rwanda and Ghana are also currently in talks to develop their own capabilities.
We have experience in producing vaccines, and we have ecosystems in place to support their production.
There is however one thing that the African continent cannot do.
We cannot continue to wait in the queue for life-saving COVID-19 vaccines.
The longer we wait the more lives are put at risk.
From the outset of this pandemic, Africa’s response has been unified, coordinated and comprehensive.
We set up the groundbreaking African Medical Supplies Platform to ensure that all countries in need have access to diagnostics, therapeutics and personal protective equipment.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – the CDC – has played an important role in the continental response, ensuring we can pool resources and expertise.
Currently, the Africa CDC is also supporting 26 member states with oxygen concentrators and accessories.
Last year, we set up the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team to secure vaccines for the continent.
It has done excellent work through its engagements with the COVAX facility and directly with vaccine manufacturers.
As African countries, we are immensely grateful to the government of France for its ongoing support of Africa’s vaccine acquisition.
We welcome France’s recent contribution of an additional 30 million doses to COVAX and 500 million euros in multilateral funds to buy diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
Despite these and other contributions, vaccine coverage in Africa is only 1.6%.
To date, less than half of one per cent of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated.
Access is our biggest challenge.
Vaccines are flooding into upper-income countries but are trickling into Africa.
This runs completely contrary to our aspirations to build a world founded on human rights for all.
It also undermines the global effort to defeat this coronavirus; for as long as the virus continues to spread in one part of the world, it remains a threat to the whole world.
Undertakings to donate excess vaccine doses to low-income countries are welcome, but they are unlikely to make up the shortfall in global production capacity.
To successfully break transmission, we will need billions of doses to vaccinate a sufficient number of people mainly in developing countries.
We therefore commend the more than 100 countries that have to date supported the proposal for a TRIPS Waiver.
This is the most practical route to address Africa’s vaccine shortages in the short to medium term.
We note that resistance to the waiver proposal comes from wealthier countries that have already secured more than 75% of available vaccines.
Alternative approaches to access vaccines have been suggested. They include vaccine sharing and donation, and establishing medicine patent pools.
Some have also called on developing countries to use existing TRIPS flexibilities to address intellectual property barriers; and for a so-called ‘third way’ through the use of voluntary licenses.
However, many of these are solutions that do not take into account the sheer scale of the need.
As we prepare for the G7 and G20 summits, Your Excellency, we need to ensure that our positions are aligned on this matter.
As South Africa, we reaffirm our commitment to achieving a balanced outcome that takes the interests of all into account.
The discussions should continue to be held in good faith, to be solutions-oriented, and the negotiations must be text-based.
The solidarity displayed by the international community since the pandemic outbreak has been laudable, and we hope to see it continued through support for the WTO proposal.
A temporary TRIPS waiver will not just enable us to save lives in the short and medium term.
It will also support the African Vaccine Manufacturing Partnership in equipping us to deal with future health emergencies.
Manufacturing vaccines locally is an important step towards African self-reliance and will help us to meet our developmental aspirations.
There is existing manufacturing capacity globally that can be leveraged to ramp up production in the South.
By some estimates, current production capacity of around 3.5 billion doses could be ramped up to around 5 billion doses annually.
For South Africa’s part, we have demonstrated capability in the form of the Biovac Institute and Aspen.
It is however a sector in development.
Much of our local manufacturing capacity is centred on formulation, fill and finish using imported active pharmaceutical ingredients, packaging and cold chain distribution.
We are developing a Local Vaccine Manufacturing Plan to produce vaccines locally through strategic partnerships and technology transfer.
Our goal is to cover the entire vaccine production value chain by upgrading existing capacity and bringing new capacity on board.
We want to establish new pharmaceutical manufacturing companies able to produce the COVID-19 and other vaccines.
We already have a Black Industrialists Programme able to assist these new entrants.
Emerging African manufacturers need technology partners that will help develop their skills base and assist with technology transfer.
They need markets for their products.
This requires a commitment from multilateral procurement agencies and donor funders to procure medicines and vaccines from African manufacturers in sustainable volumes.
We will continue to rely on the support of the international community and partners like France and Germany.
We will also need the support of industry for investment, capacity-building, and intellectual property and technology transfer.
I want to make a call to multinational pharmaceutical companies to reconsider their opposition to the TRIPS waiver.
Twenty years ago, when South Africa was in the grip of the HIV/Aids pandemic, we were sued by pharmaceutical manufacturers over access to and manufacturing of anti-retroviral medication.
By abandoning their legal action then, the manufacturers decided to put people before profits.
It paved the way for South Africa and other developing countries to have access to lifesaving medication.
This is not about undermining incentives for research and development. It is about collaborating to save lives.
Research into the COVID-19 vaccine was the product of international collaboration, with significant financial support from the public sector.
A number of clinical trials were conducted in developing countries, including right here in South Africa.
Allowing all countries to manufacture their own vaccines is not about developed countries or pharmaceutical companies extending their largesse to us.
This is a matter of social justice and human rights, the most important of them being the right to life.
Vaccines are and must remain a public good.
Your Excellency, President Macron,
South Africa welcomes your announcements on support for vaccine manufacturing in our country and on the continent.
We are immensely encouraged by the French government’s support for South Africa’s science and innovation research in the form of expertise deployment, study scholarships, funding and tech transfer.
We are also encouraged by the most recent investment commitments by French companies, which will greatly boost our economy and create jobs.
We also appreciate past investment pledges made by French companies at the annual South Africa Investment Conference.
We also extend our gratitude to the Federal Republic of Germany for its support of this initiative to boost South Africa’s vaccine manufacturing capability.
On behalf of the Republic of South Africa we also thank Germany for its generous donation of ventilators and medical equipment to our National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
This pandemic has taught us valuable lessons.
South Africa believes the international community should come together to develop a new international pact on pandemics, whether it is in the form of a treaty or an agreement.
It must emphasise new rules based on equity and solidarity.
It should also address sustainable financing for the World Health Organization.
We must also look at how vaccine manufacturing capacity developed during COVID-19 can be repurposed for the future production of other vaccines and related technologies.
More than a year since this pandemic brought devastation to countries across the globe, COVID-19 vaccines present a glimmer of hope.
Let us ensure that this hope is not snatched from millions of people around the world because they were not born in a well-resourced country.
As this deadly pandemic shows little signs of abating, we are in a race to save lives.
Africa wants to do things for itself. We want to help ourselves and save our people.
With the right support and collaboration, we will be able to scale up and diversify our production capabilities.
We have the capability, the expertise and the experience in manufacturing vaccines.
Above all, we have the will to succeed – not just as South Africa, but as the entire continent.
What we are asking for, and what we need, is the opportunity to realise this bold and noble vision.