12 April 2021

Chair of the African Union, His Excellency President Félix Tshisekedi,
Chairperson of the African Union Commission, His Excellency Moussa Faki Mahamat,
President of the Republic of Rwanda, His Excellency Paul Kagame,
President of the Republic of Senegal, His Excellency Macky Sall,
Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,
Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,
Director of the Africa CDC, Dr John Nkengasong,
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

This virtual conference is taking place at a critical moment in the struggle of our continent and the global community to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the global rate of transmission continues to climb, millions of people across the world are being vaccinated every day.

Despite concerns around new waves of infection and the emergence of new variants, the production of effective vaccines has provided hope for recovery.

But not all countries can share equally in the hope of having access to vaccines at the time they need them most.

The global disparities in wealth and capability to develop, produce and have access to vaccines is hampering efforts by middle- and low-income countries to make vaccines available to their populations.

The challenge that many African countries face is that the supply of vaccines is currently too slow to meet our needs.

Our immediate task therefore is to secure sufficient vaccine doses for African countries through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, which has made valuable progress through its engagements with manufacturers.

This effort is supported by other initiatives to manufacture vaccines on the continent, where possible, under license and in collaboration with current manufacturers.

The Aspen facility in South Africa, for example, will make some 220 million doses available following AVATT’s agreement with Johnson & Johnson.

But that is only the beginning.

Throughout this pandemic, Africa has demonstrated that it has extensive and substantial capabilities, resources and skills to address the challenges given rise to by the pandemic.

Africa’s response has shown the depth of scientific expertise on the continent and has provided an opportunity for unprecedented scientific collaboration.

Through initiatives like the Africa Medical Supplies Platform, the continent has pioneered new ways of ensuring access to vital Personal protective equipments as well as diagnostics and therapeutics.

Through our own continental institutions, we have mobilised substantial resources to support the health response to this pandemic.

Importantly, the leaders of the continent have demonstrated the political will to act decisively in the face of this grave threat to health and well-being.

Our task now is to harness all these capabilities, and to draw on the experience of the past year to build a vibrant and innovative African medical supplies manufacturing capability that meets the health needs of the continent’s people.

This means that in the medium term, we need to expand existing capabilities into regional hubs that serve the Continent as a whole.

To do this, Africa needs to harness its own continental capabilities and identify opportunities for collaboration across several countries of the continent. We also need to forge sustainable partnerships with entities in both the developed world and the developing world.

Partners in various countries could offer technological expertise, financing and investment. Countries such as India and Brazil could provide guidance on how they developed their own generic pharmaceutical industries.

Such collaboration should form the basis of a longer-term strategy to develop a pharmaceutical industry that can achieve continental scale – taking advantage of the large, growing and increasingly integrated African market.

The private sector will be essential to the success of this effort.

In addition to domestic government spending and regional financial commitments, the public and private sector will need to invest in such initiatives.

We will also need capacity-building in the form of skills and knowledge transfer to ensure we can sustain local manufacturing.

In ensuring an effective response to the current pandemic, we must strengthen our ability to both respond to future health emergencies and to achieve health security.

The vision of a strong African medical supplies and vaccine manufacturing capability that responds effectively to the health needs of the African people is bold and ambitious, but is achievable.

From the experience of the past year, I am confident that Africa is closer now than ever before to the fulfilment of this vision.

I thank you.