The World Health Organization on Friday announced the first six African countries that will get the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines used to fight diseases like COVID-19.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Tunisia all applied and have been selected as recipients of the technology.
He announced the selected countries at the European Union - African Union summit in Brussels at a ceremony hosted by the European Council, France, South Africa, and the WHO.
"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.
"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.
French President Emmanuel Macron, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and European Council President Charles Michel were present at the event.
"This is an initiative that will allow us to make our own vaccines, and that, to us, is very important," said Ramaphosa.
"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," he added.
The global mRNA technology transfer hub was established in 2021 to support manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries to produce their vaccines.
The hub ensures that they have all the necessary operating procedures and know-how to manufacture mRNA vaccines at scale and according to international standards.
Macron said: "Improved public health benefits, supporting African health sovereignty and economic development are the principal goals of strengthening local production in Africa.
"In an interconnected world, we need stronger and new partnerships between countries, development partners, and other stakeholders to empower regions and countries to fend for themselves, during crises, and in peacetime."
Depending on the infrastructure, workforce and clinical research, and regulatory capacity, WHO said it will work with its partners for the beneficiary countries to develop a roadmap.
To ensure that all countries build the necessary capacity to produce their own vaccines and other health technologies, WHO has worked to establish a biomanufacturing workforce training hub.
It will train people from all interested countries in scientific and clinical research and production capacity. The training hub will be announced in the coming weeks.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: "We have been talking a lot about producing mRNA vaccines in Africa.
“But this goes even beyond. This is mRNA technology designed in Africa, led by Africa and owned by Africa, with the support of Team Europe."
Almost two years after Africa identified its first case of COVID-19, the WHO said that if current trends continue, the continent could control the pandemic in 2022.
“Although Africa still lags behind on vaccination, with only 11% of the adult population fully vaccinated, we now have a steady supply of doses flowing in,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Africa director, told reporters earlier this month.
“While vaccination is critical, we must not forget testing and surveillance which we know are basic tools for returning our lives to some semblance of normalcy,” he added.
Moeti said that testing is key to controlling the spread of COVID-19, and since the start of the pandemic 95 million tests have been conducted across Africa.
Testing has gradually improved, with 21 out of 47 countries now testing within the WHO recommended benchmark of 10 tests performed for every 10 000 people a week, up from 15 countries a year earlier.