By Sharon O. Isaalah, Abuja
The Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has named Nigeria and five other African countries – Egypt, South Africa, Senegal, Kenya and Tunisia – as the first in Africa that would receive the technology needed for the manufacturing of mRNA (Messenger Ribonucleic Acid) used in producing COVID-19 vaccines.
Ghebreyesus who announced this on Friday at the European Union – African Union summit in Brussels said the countries all applied and were selected as recipients.
The announcement was made at a ceremony hosted by the European Council, France, South Africa and WHO in the presence of President Macron, President Ramaphosa, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
The mRNA vaccines are different from most vaccines which contain a weakened or inactive piece of the target virus that triggers the production of antibodies.
Instead, these game-changing types of vaccines use laboratory engineering mRNA that gives cells instructions on how to create a protein that resembles a piece of a protein found in the virus of concern — COVID-19 in this case.
This triggers the body to create antibodies to deactivate the foreign protein. The antibodies then linger in the body to fight subsequent infection from COVID-19. This technology is used in the production of Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines.
Ghebreyesus said the COVID-19 pandemic had shown that reliance on a few companies to supply global public goods was limiting and dangerous.
With the addition of Nigeria to the four countries earlier approved for the vaccine production on the continent, efforts by the Buhari administration to change the selection that the country considered unrepresentative of the needs, capabilities and population distribution in Africa has thus yielded the desired result.
President Buhari has since welcomed the development.
In his contribution at the Roundtable on Health Systems and Vaccine Production at the ongoing 6th Europe-Africa Summit in Brussels, Belgium yesterday, Buhari called for a closer collaboration with the EU to tackle the effects of the pandemic on the African continent.
He expressed delight at receiving the news of the selection of Nigeria among recipients of mRNA Vaccine technology transfer.
Buhari said: “We shall ensure the best use is made of the opportunity. Nigeria also offers to host the Bio-manufacturing Training hub proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO). We commit to providing support to make the hub functional in the shortest possible time.”
While commending the efforts of the foreign partners in making the Covid-19 vaccine available, he urged them to do more like less than 10 per cent of the African population had gotten the jab, stressing that this situation could negatively affect Africa’s developmental projections.
“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,” Buhari said.
Responding to the announcement, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa 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.”
The global mRNA technology transfer hub was established in 2021 to support manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries to produce their own vaccines, ensuring that they have all the necessary operating procedures and know-how to manufacture mRNA vaccines at scale and according to international standards.
Also, French President Emmanuel 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.”
On his part, President of the European Council, Charles Michel said the world needed to create an environment where every scientist, health worker, and government can band together for a common cause by working together “to build new solutions to protect what is most precious – our health and our lives.” He said the initiative will ensure that all countries build the necessary capacity to produce their own vaccines and other health technologies.
The WHO mRNA technology transfer hub is part of a larger effort aimed at empowering low- and middle-income countries to produce their own vaccines, medicines and diagnostics to address health emergencies and reach universal health coverage.