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EU backs AU’s initiative for in-continent vaccine production

Dr. Jean Kaseya, the Director General of the Africa CDC (grey suit, centre), attended the recent EU-AU conference in Brussels, Belgium. COURTESY PHOTO

AU has prioritized vaccine manufacturing for up to 22 diseases

NEWS ANALYSIS  | RONALD MUSOKE | The European Union intends to support its partner, the African Union, in its ambitious goal of producing 60% of vaccines on the continent for African citizens by 2040, according to Jutta Urpilainen, the European Commissioner for International Partnerships.

“Learning the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, the AU and the EU are committed to advance health systems and strengthen health capacities globally,” she said on March 20 in Brussels, “We are proud of the results achieved in increasing local manufacturing of medicines and vaccines in Africa, for Africa.”

Urpilainen, who was speaking in Brussels during a high-level conference that marked the expansion of a strategic EU-AU health partnership, said it was inspiring to see African-led projects are beginning to really take off and Europe’s private sector extending their support.

The AU delegation was led by the African Union Commision, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), and the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD). On the other hand, the EU delegation was led by the Belgian Presidency of the European Council and the European Commission.

“Just in December, equipment was delivered to start manufacturing mRNA vaccines in Rwanda,” Urpilainen said, adding that , “The European Union is already working with Gavi and the Global Fund in order to increase demand for locally-produced health products.”

She added: “The (COVID-19) pandemic was a wake-up call. It reminded us that health challenges do not stop at international borders. And that inequalities – both between and within countries – run deep.”

Urpilainen noted that the EU intends to mobilise € 150 billion in investments by 2027, thanks to the Global Gateway Africa-Europe Investment Package, with health being a key pillar among the flagship initiatives to be funded.

She said Team Europe’s (joint European Union approach that seeks to pool EU members’ resources and expertise to deliver more effective and greater impact) initiative on manufacturing and access to vaccines, medicines and health technologies in Africa has already mobilised over €1.3 billion in grants and loans.

AU’s PAVM Framework

In 2021, the AU set up the Partnership for Africa Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) structure to empower the Africa CDC, an autonomous body within the AU structures mandated with strengthening capacity of African countries to respond quickly and effectively to disease threat on the continent.

Amongst its deliverables is a new public health order which seeks to increase the manufacture of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics as one of the continent’s pillars to ensure the health security of the continent’s 1.4 billion people.

EU delegates and their AU counterparts engaged on several aspects of health systems strengthening in Africa during the conference in Brussels, Belgium. COURTESY PHOTO/AFRICA CDC.

The Africa CDC has since been tasked with developing a framework for action to execute a plan of boosting local vaccine manufacturing in Africa from the current percentage of less than 3% to 60% by 2040.

The AU has already launched the implementation of the prioritized activities with the operationalisation of the PAVM Secretariat. The Africa CDC is now on a multi-stage journey to realise the AU’s new public health order with the current focus being “strategy implementation.”

Targeted diseases

The African Union has already prioritized vaccine manufacturing for up to 22 diseases including; diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B, yellow fever, tuberculosis, measles, typhoid fever, and cholera (legacy diseases).

In the near future, the AU intends to expand production of HPV, HIV, Malaria, Pneumococcal, Covid-19 and Rotavirus vaccines and therapeutics while keeping an eye on other diseases such as Chikungunya, Rift Valley Fever, Influenza, Lassa Fever and Disease X–the name coined by the World Health Organization to refer to an obscure disease.

Dr Jean Kaseya, the Director General of the Africa CDC noted at the Brussels conference that, as the world navigates the complexities of global health, Africa is on the path towards self-sufficiency through equitable access to medical products.

“Africa’s target of producing 60% of vaccines by 2040 through the Africa CDC underscores our commitment to health sovereignty,” he said. “Through strategic partnerships like the EU-AU collaboration, we accelerate our capabilities, leveraging expertise and resources to build resilient health systems and strengthen Pandemic preparedness.”

Dr. Jean Kaseya, the Director General of the Africa CDC (wearing grey suit, Right) met and held discussions with Sania Nishtar, the new CEO of GAVI (Left, with shoal) on the sidelines of the EU-AU conference in Brussels. COURTESY PHOTO/AFRICA CDC.

Strengthening Africa’s health system

Urpilainen, meanwhile, said the EU also intends to go beyond pharmaceutical and vaccine manufacturing, noting that the EU alongside the European Investment Bank and the Gates Foundation has already committed € 1 billion to strengthen health systems across the continent.

She noted that Team Europe is the largest contributor to the Pandemic Fund, which strengthens pandemic prevention, preparedness and response capacities.

“We increased collaboration with the WHO on various policies, such as the expansion of universal health coverage abroad. All this aligns with the EU’s Global Health Strategy, which aims to promote health across the life cycle, help strengthen health systems worldwide and prevent health threats,” she said. “By working together – at the country, regional, and multilateral level – we can deliver better long-term health and well-being for all people.”

Urpilainen said the launch of four new Team Europe Initiatives will take the partnership with the AU to the next level. She noted that the Team Europe Initiative on health security will support the prevention, preparedness and response to infectious threats and antimicrobial resistance in Africa using a one health approach.

“Team Europe Initiative on digital health provides solutions for pandemic preparedness and response to strengthen primary health care. Together with Africa CDC, we strengthen African national public health institutes to provide evidence-based policy advice towards advancing Universal Health Coverage,” she said.

“Our Team Europe Initiative on Social Protection fosters greater access to comprehensive and gradually universal social protection systems. I want us to keep from this day the strong spirit of collaboration, solidarity, and determination going. The discussions and commitments will put us on track towards a healthier and more equitable future for all.”

Amb. Minata Samate Cessouma, the African Union Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development said the recent establishment of the African Medicines Agency (AMA) marks a crucial step forward in safeguarding health security on the continent by ensuring the availability and the accessibility of quality pharmaceutical products.

“This availability and accessibility facilitate prevention strategies and rapid responses to health emergencies, strengthening regulatory capacities and promoting regional cooperation and harmonization of standards.

She said, by harmonizing regulatory processes and promoting access to effective medical products, the AMA can significantly enhance public health outcomes and promote sustainable development in Africa, as envisioned in the Africa Health Strategy (2016-2030) and the African Union Agenda 2063.

She said AMA is also envisioned to bolster research and development efforts within the continent, fostering innovation and self-reliance in addressing health challenges specific to the continent.

“Looking to the future, the African Union Commission is enthusiastic about knowledge-sharing between the European Union and Africa to leverage the experience of establishing the European Medicines Agency to chart guidance and regulatory pathways for the development and approval of new manufacturing technologies and processes,”Cessouma said.

Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety noted that “An ever-closer partnership between the African Union and the European Union is indispensable for public health.”

“We want to work more closely with our African partners on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, One Health and antimicrobial resistance, as well as the health effects of climate change. These are core objectives for our EU Global Health Strategy and the foundations of our cooperation with the African continent,” she said.

“We are now at a critical stage of the negotiations on the pandemic agreement and the international health regulations, with which we would provide new multilateral solutions to common challenges.”

“The EU is committed to conclude the negotiations by May, a responsibility equally shared by all nations. I am pleased that the African Union and EU are joining voices and taking concrete steps to support global health internationally.”

The Brussels conference built on the health commitments of the 6th EU-AU Summit and outcomes of the Addis Ababa AU-EU High-level dialogue, the AU and EU expanded collaboration in priority areas of common interest in the New Public Health Order and the EU Global Health Strategy, such as strengthening pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, One Health, AMR, digital health, climate and health.

Next steps

Going forward, the EU intends to continue engaging in technical collaboration on health in Africa and investments in strengthening Africa’s health security architecture. The EU’s Global Gateway strategy is expected to deliver on these commitments, notably through Team Europe Initiatives, increasing the resilience of European and African health systems in response to the rapidly shifting health burden, social protection, the impact of climate change and emerging health threats while considering innovative science, sharing of technical expertise and knowledge (as well as multi-stakeholder commitments).

Similarly, the Belgian Presidency and the European Commission are expected to follow up on the high-level conference in the European Council and in the governing bodies of the EU’s international cooperation instruments, aligned with shared interests and ambitions of European and African partners.

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