The World Health Organisation has joined immunisation experts in urging the international community and African countries to take concrete actions to ensure equitable access to Coronavirus Disease vaccines, as researchers around the world race to find effective protection against the virus.
“It is clear that as the international community comes together to develop safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19, equity must be a central focus of these efforts.
“Too often, African countries end up at the back of the queue for new technologies, including vaccines. These life-saving products must be available to everyone, not only those who can afford to pay,” WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, stated during a virtual press conference on Thursday organised by APO Group.
WHO and partners launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator to speed up the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
It brings together leaders of government, global health organisations, civil society groups, businesses and philanthropists to form a plan for an equitable response to the pandemic.
WHO is collaborating with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to ensure a fair allocation of vaccines to all countries, aiming to deliver two billion doses globally for high-risk populations, including one billion for low and middle-income countries.
The African Union endorsed the need for the continent to develop a framework to actively engage in the development and access to COVID-19 vaccines.
According to the African Academy of Sciences, only two per cent of clinical trials conducted worldwide occur in Africa. It is important to test the COVID-19 vaccine in countries where it is needed to ensure that it will be effective. With more than 215,000 cases, South Africa accounts for 43 per cent of the continent’s total cases.
“I encourage more countries in the region to join these trials, so that the contexts and immune response of populations in Africa are factored in to studies,” said Moeti. “Africa has the scientific expertise to contribute widely to the search for an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Indeed, our researchers have helped develop vaccines which provide protection against communicable diseases such as meningitis, Ebola, yellow fever and a number of other common health threats in the region.”
Earlier this month, WHO Africa’s principle advisory group on immunisation policies and programmes – the African Regional Immunisation Technical Advisory Group – also noted the need to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 and other vaccines in the region.
“As the world focuses on finding a vaccine for COVID-19, we must ensure people do not forget that dozens of life-saving vaccines already exist. These vaccines should reach children everywhere in Africa – no one can be left behind,” said the Chair of the RITAG, Prof. Helen Rees.