19 January 2022

Today, we are gathered to witness a milestone in Africa’s onward march towards health, progress and prosperity.

It is within the walls of this facility, through the networks that are being built, through the advanced skills that are being developed, and through the other initiatives across our continent, that our vision for vaccine, diagnostics and drug manufacturing in Africa will steadily take form.

This state-of-the-art vaccine manufacturing campus that we are officially launching today is part of a far broader initiative to propel Africa into a new era of health science.

The establishment of Africa’s Access to Advanced Healthcare Coalition is a bold step to unite biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, non-profit organisations and academia.

The Coalition gives effect to our firm belief that Africa needs to harness its skills and resources and identify opportunities for collaboration across several countries.

The Coalition recognises that Africa has both a great need and vast capabilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the extent of Africa’s health challenges.

The pandemic has revealed the huge disparities that exist within and between countries in access to quality healthcare, medicines, diagnostics and vaccines.

At the same time, the pandemic has revealed the depth of scientific knowledge, expertise and capacity on our continent.

It has shown what we are capable of when we work together to mobilise all our resources to confront a common challenge.

Through the African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with numerous institutions across the continent, and with the support of many international partners, we have mounted a formidable response to COVID-19 in Africa.

As the African Union Champion on COVID-19, South Africa supports vaccine manufacturing in Africa to ensure self-sufficiency of the continent.

Africa should no longer be last in line to access vaccines against pandemics.

As some of you may recall, we were part of launching the WHO mRNA Hub led by Afrigen.

Today we are marking the establishment of a company that aims to develop next-generation vaccines that will reach patients across the continent.

This new entity, we understand, will collaborate with the mRNA hub by providing RNA enzymes they need to produce vaccines.

Through initiatives like the Africa Medical Supplies Platform, we have worked to ensure that all African countries have been able to secure sufficient and affordable supplies to respond to the pandemic.

Africa has had to wage a concerted fight to secure vaccines for its people.

Thanks to the outstanding work of the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, we have secured over 500 million vaccine doses for the continent.

This is a great achievement under extremely challenging circumstances.

But these doses represent only around half of what the Continent needs to vaccinate 900 million people in order to achieve the 70% target set by the WHO.

We need more vaccine doses, we need better therapeutics, and we need to protect the people of our continent against future variants and future pandemics.

We have seen that if we want to safeguard the health of our people, we need to have the means, the technology and the resources to produce vaccines and treatments for all the diseases that afflict the people of our continent.

That is why we have been working to establish new pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities to produce the COVID-19 and other vaccines.

This NantSA facility will make a vital contribution to this mission, complementing the work already being done by companies like Aspen, Biovac and Afrigen here in South Africa and several other companies in other parts of the continent.

Our goal is to cover the entire vaccine production value chain by upgrading existing capacity and bringing new capacity on board.

Emerging African manufacturers need technology partners to develop their skills base and assist with technology transfer.

We shall scale up and diversify our production capabilities with the proper support and collaboration.

As the African continent, we have much of the capability, expertise and experience needed to manufacture vaccines.

That is why we welcome partnerships with entities like the Access to Advanced Health Institute, the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation and NantWorks to mobilise investment, transfer technology and know-how, and develop skills.

We are already seeing the benefits of this partnership.

This morning I had the privilege of visiting the Chan Soon-Shiong Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation at the University of Stellenbosch.

The generous support of the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation – which includes the donation of two large DNA sequencers – will help the centre to spearhead the genomic revolution in South Africa.

South Africa’s capabilities in genomic surveillance are recognised worldwide and have been vital in our response – and indeed the global response – to the emergence of new COVID-19 variants.

This has been possible only through collaboration.

Here we talk about the collaboration between the laboratories, scientists and academic institutions that established the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa.

We also talk about the collaboration between the public, private and non-profit sectors in funding this work.

We must recognise the funding provided by our Department of Science and Innovation, the South African Medical Research Council, the Rockefeller Foundation, the US National Institutes of Health, the European Commission, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and, of course, the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation.

We also talk about the collaboration that is taking place between scientists and institutions across the African continent and across the world.

While we welcome and applaud the investment that is being made in cutting-edge equipment and facilities, we recognise that the most significant and sustainable investment we can make is in human skills and capabilities.

Nearly half a century ago, South Africa made an investment in the education of a young man from Port Elizabeth, born to Chinese immigrants.

It is fair to say that the apartheid government of the time made that investment reluctantly, and we know that, in the face of the government’s racist policies, that young man had to struggle hard to get the education to which all young people are entitled.

Yet today, South Africa is the beneficiary of the investment that was made in the education of Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong 50 years ago.

And a great many young Africans will benefit from the R100 million endowment that the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation has established to support the education and training of a skilled workforce in the biotechnology and life sciences industry.

These scholarships will significantly assist in building capacity across Africa and establish a legacy of excellence and innovation in science for decades to come.

Africa stands ready to enter a new age of medical science.

It stands ready to take responsibility for the health of its people, to understand better the diseases that afflict them, and to develop the means to manage these diseases.

Africa stands ready to contribute to global scientific enquiry and knowledge, and to develop treatments, diagnostics and vaccines that will serve humanity.

What we are asking for, what we need – and what we now have – is the opportunity to realise this bold and noble vision.

The Diplomatic Informer
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