COVAX a good programme, but too little to meet Africa and Global South’s needs: Thabo Makgoba

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Anglican Archbishop of Southern Africa Thabo Makgoba says COVAX is a good programme, but too little to meet the needs of the African continent and the Global South in tackling the coronavirus.

Makgoba insists that the pharmaceutical industry in Africa should start developing vaccines against COVID-19.

Some opposition parties say it is possible for the continent to develop its vaccines, but they express certain concerns.

The Anglican Archbishop first made the call on Good Friday saying it is possible for the pharmaceutical industry on the continent to start developing vaccines.

In continuing with his call for the development of vaccines, Makgoba says if the vaccine know-how is shared with developing countries, the continent will be able to produce vaccines in the fight against COVID-19.

“We can do it. If we can look at  the amount of money that we (use to) import health (sic) and drugs in the continent as a whole … and if we move that there should be the World Trade Organisation TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) and the waiver on licenses and the sharing of the know-how, I’m sure that, as a continent, the pharmaceutical industry can scale up and produce the much needed vaccines for the continent. I have made this call and will continue to make it loud and clear up until Pentecost, which is 50 days from Easter until Pentecost. In all the platforms that I have with my colleagues in America, in England and Australia, and throughout the world, through the South African Council of Churches and other inter-faith groupings. COVAX as a programme and idea is good, but it is too little for the continental needs and the Global South. It is just a trickle. We need population immunity, not just a trickle for the Global South.”

The call for the sharing of vaccine knowledge with developing countries was also made by President Cyril Ramaphosa and World Health Organisation Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus during a recent virtual briefing to mark the one-year anniversary of the Access to COVID-19 vaccines.

President Ramaphosa spoke out against vaccine nationalism.

“We should say that vaccine nationalism seriously threatens the global recovery from the pandemic and it’s deepening inequality between countries. The COVID-19 vaccine is a public good and must be recognised as such. To overcome challenges with access, low and medium income countries must be supported. Yes, to have access to vaccines, but also to be able to manufacture their own vaccines, diagnostics and other treatments,” says Ramaphosa.

He says South Africa and India “are calling for a temporary TRIPS waiver to respond to COVID-19.”

“As a continent, Africa has embarked on a ambitious drive to work towards the development of pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity so that it can supply the continent’s people with the vaccines and other medical supplies they need, to use the existing vaccine manufacturing capacity in developing counties and to enable further development. South Africa and India are calling for a temporary TRIPS waiver to respond to COVID-19. This, in our view, will facilitate the transfer of technology and international property to more countries from the productions of vaccines as well as diagnostics and treatments.”

And Ghebreyesus has also called on rich countries to share to resources and vaccine know-how to scale up production and save lives against COVID-19.

“The solution is straightforward; we need countries and companies that control the resources that could save lives, to share. That means sharing financial resources to fully fund the Act-Accelerator, which means sharing vaccines doses to protect the most at risk, (and) not just the most rich. It means all countries being transparent about their bilateral doses donations, so we know who has what. And it means sharing technology, know-how and intellectual property to urgently and massively scale up production.”

The Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Freedom Front Plus say they support the idea of the continent, and particularly South Africa, to develop vaccines against COVID-19. However they have certain conditions.

DA Spokesperson on Health Siviwe Gwarube says while the current priority should be on getting more vaccines, it is possible to develop domestic capacity.

“”We are always in support of the notion that, since pandemics will become very much part of our lives, we would want to develop domestic capacity to be able to develop vaccines and other kinds of medical  advancements. We welcome that fact because we also know that we have some of the best medical and some of the best medical and some of the best academics and some of the experts in the country when it comes to this field,” says Gwarube.

“And so, if government is able to design a platform by which they are able to exercise those expertise, where they are able to access funding; where the process is not simply bogged down by bureaucracy and hollowed up by corruptions, but it is more about putting the interest of scientific advancement first, we would simply not have a problem with supporting something of that nature. We are in full support of South Africa to have its own capacity (to) develop these kinds of advancements. However, we are of the view that in the meantime the most urgent priority right now for government is to ensure that we secure as any vaccines as (much as) possible and that there is a little wastage and as little corruption as possible.”

FF-Plus Leader Pieter Groenewald is more concerned about whether vaccines should be developed by the private sector or state-owned companies.

“In principle, no one can object to the idea that Africa as a continent must start to produce its own vaccines as far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned. The question is whether it will be state-owned enterprises, or whether it will be private companies. If it’s going to be state-owned enterprises, the Freedom Front Plus is of the view that it will not be successful. If you look at the corruption and the management of state-owned enterprises in South Africa, it is doomed to fail. The only way to success in this dream is to ensure that private companies supported by government, (are allowed) to produce and manufacture these pharmaceutical products. Then it can be a success.”

Audio: Anglican Archbishop intensifies call on Africa to develop vaccines against COVID-19: