As countries in North America & other parts of the world have begun mass vaccination for Covid, Africa has yet to get out of the starting block. From Cape to Cairo, African governments are struggling to access the drugs. And as a vicious second wave of coronavirus has begun to ravage the world, it has become clear that for the major pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the vaccine, Africa is last in line. As a result, it looks increasingly unlikely that Africa will be getting the vaccine in time to control it.
With Moderna & AstraZeneca having not yet committed supplies to Africa, and with Pfizer-BionTech offering just 50 million doses for the year, African governments are now scrambling in search of product. Many have turned to other emerging nations.
Guinea has ordered 2 million doses of the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, and is currently testing it. Morocco plans to purchase 65 million doses of China’s Sinopharm product, while Egypt has already begun taking delivery. Nigeria is in negotiations for the Chinese vaccine.
And at the multilateral level, the African Union is negotiating for supply with the Serum Institute of India.
Which has prompted many observers to pose the question: Why can’t Africa manufacture the vaccine on the continent? Many have cited the continent’s relative lack of financial & technical capacity as the main factors.
Pascal Mukadi, Chairman of Johannesburg-based Medical Fund Management (MFM), disagrees.
“Greater investment & expertise are certainly needed on the continent, but these aren’t the primary factors that are blocking Africa’s progress in producing its own drugs” says the healthcare entrepreneur.
“Systemic corruption is the main barrier to Africa’s development as a pharmaceutical power. Until we acknowledge and address this factor, we will never build the capacity to produce our own drugs & vaccines.”
While acknowledging the reality of poor infrastructure & low levels of scientific & medical expertise on the continent, Mukadi says that these factors can be overcome with diligent planning, strategy & political will. The main issue, he believes, is that corrupt politicians & bureaucrats benefit from Africa’s reliance on foreign imports. Bribes & illicit deals with foreign pharmaceutical companies encourage many officials to stymie efforts at local production. This results in African medical systems that are held hostage to foreign business interests.
He finds it appalling that less than 2% of drugs consumed in Africa are produced on the continent. This, Mukadi says, demonstrates the sheer scale of revenue that is generated by Africa’s lack of pharmaceutical infrastructure. Conversely, it also represents the huge incentive for corrupt deals between local officials, businesspeople & foreign drug companies.
“The Covid vaccine – as well as the other drugs needed to combat Africa’s public health issues – will never be produced on the continent until we see a change of mindset among African leaders. Until that happens, the status quo will remain.”
Through MFM & his NGO, the Pascal Mukadi Foundation, Mukadi is working to promote healthcare development throughout Africa. A core component of his development strategy is to encourage African governments to support local manufacturing efforts.
“Over the course of 2021 & beyond, we’ll be working to spur greater investment in healthcare infrastructure across the continent” he says. “We’re targeting research centers, hospitals & clinics as well as investment in skills development; we’ve already gained momentum in several countries.”
So what is his endgame?
“An African healthcare renaissance” Mukadi says confidently. “Within the next decade, I want to see major drugs being produced on the continent which can address our health challenges.”
“If another pandemic hits, I want us to be ready.”
Written by: Mambande Thomas
Editor MFM Media