Vaccine manufacturing what Africa must do

06 Nov 2023

Development Communication Expert Africa is home to over a billion people, but by 2022, it had produced less than one per cent of the world’s vaccines.

This gap leaves the continent vulnerable to outbreaks of infectious diseases and dependent on vaccine imports.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed this fragility and the inequity of the global health system, leading to a growing demand for more local vaccine manufacturing in Africa.

Data from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) shows that the continent imports 99 per cent of its vaccine despite having a consumption rate of 25 per cent globally.

Much effort must be made to reduce this over-dependence on external vaccine sources.

One solution is increasing the local production of vaccines across the continent, which will enhance Africa’s ability to respond effectively and equitably to health emergencies while also creating jobs and fostering innovation.

In 2021, the African Union launched the Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) initiative to increase the local production of vaccines to cover 60 per cent of the continent’s demand by 2040.

However, more needs to be achieved due to several hindrances, such as inadequate infrastructure, technology, financing, and market access.

The most notable barrier is the critical shortage of skilled and qualified human resources for vaccine manufacturing.

Without a robust workforce, Africa’s ability to develop, produce, and distribute quality vaccines that meet international standards and local needs is minimal.

Workforce development is critical to building a sustainable and competitive vaccine industry in Africa.

It involves training and empowering local scientists, engineers, technicians, managers, regulators, and entrepreneurs who can design, produce, distribute, and monitor vaccines that meet the needs and standards of the African market.

It can be argued that there is a lack of a coordinated and strategic approach to identify and prioritise the skills and competencies needed to manufacture vaccines in Africa.

And with the limited availability and accessibility of quality education and training programmes that are relevant, affordable, and accredited, nothing much can be achieved.

There is also the problem of weak linkages and collaboration among stakeholders, including academia, industry, government, and civil society, to align the supply and demand of skills and competencies.

As such, there is an urgent need for a holistic and systemic approach involving multiple stakeholders and leveraging existing resources and best practices.

A comprehensive framework and roadmap for workforce development that highlights different actors’ vision, goals, objectives, indicators, roles, and responsibilities must be developed.

Furthermore, it is essential to set up regional centres of excellence and vaccine manufacturing hubs that can provide training, mentoring, research, innovation, and networking opportunities for professionals in the field of vaccines.

“The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the African Union together have called for a New Public Health Order which will safeguard the health and economic security of the continent as it strives to meet the aspirations of the Agenda 2063. A key pillar of this vision seeks to expand the local manufacture of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics,” said Dr Jean Kaseya,

Director General of Africa CDC, during a partnership launch between the Institut Pasteur de Dakar and Mastercard Foundation that seeks to Expand Workforce for Vaccine Manufacturing in Africa.

Echoing Dr Kaseya’s sentiments, Reeta Roy, the President and CEO of the Mastercard Foundation, further emphasised the need to keep everyone safe by rolling out COVID-19 vaccinations while ensuring Africa’s long-term health security by building vaccine manufacturing expertise and workforce on the continent.

Indeed, it is also important to create incentives and mechanisms for attracting, keeping, motivating, and rewarding the workforce for vaccine manufacturing in Africa.

This includes the provision of competitive salaries, career progression paths, recognition schemes, scholarships, fellowships, and grants, among others.

However, strengthening the collaboration and coordination among stakeholders across the vaccine value chain will ensure a sustainable approach.

This will equally ensure alignment of skills and competencies with market needs and standards.

Similarly, relying on an industry based on fill-and-finish operations involving the final steps of drug production, such as filling vials and packaging, will not bring long-term strategic or economic benefits to Africa.

Therefore, it is important to invest in developing end-to-end manufacturing capabilities, which cover the entire process of making pharmaceutical products, from synthesising the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) to packaging and distributing the final product.

To achieve this goal, African scientists need more opportunities and resources to create their own intellectual property for developing APIs, which are the key components of any drug.

This way, they can address the huge gap in end-to-end manufacturing and contribute to the health and development of the continent.

Experts also stress that creating a conducive environment for private sector investment in vaccine manufacturing will help Africa attain economic viability for its vaccine producers and sufficient vaccine supply for its people.

Thankfully, several initiatives currently underway aim to support workforce development in Africa.

A good example is the collaboration between Africa CDC and the Mastercard Foundation, which launched a US$1.5 billion initiative to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines and boost the continent’s health security.

As part of this initiative, Africa CDC will support workforce development programs to allow up to 30 million young people, especially young women, to access fulfilling job opportunities in the health sector by 2030.

These programmes include scholarships, fellowships, internships, and mentorships for young Africans pursuing careers in vaccine manufacturing and other health-related fields.

Such an initiative proves Africa’s growing momentum and commitment to foster workforce development for vaccine manufacturing in the continent.

However, it is important to remember that more concerted efforts are needed to ensure that these programmes are sustainable, scalable, and responsive to the specific needs and priorities of each African country or region.

Better yet, workforce development and implementation should be aligned with the regional and continental frameworks such as the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative (AVMI) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), as well as other aspects of vaccine manufacturing, including infrastructure development, technology transfer, market access, and regulatory harmonisation.

In so doing, Africa can build a robust and resilient vaccine industry that can protect its people from current and future health threats. ENDS

Source : BOPA

Author : Noellah Musundi

Location : NAIROBI

Event : Vaccine Manufacturing

Date : 06 Nov 2023