President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on civil society organisations to mobilise international support for wider access to technologies needed to produce vaccines and medicines.

In his weekly letter to the nation, Ramaphosa says the organisations can engender solidarity and co-operation with like-minded organisations in developed countries.

‘The organisations can do so in much the same way that they played a critical role in successfully mobilising global support for the manufacture of generic HIV retrovirals two decades ago,” adding that the aim would be to raise awareness and advocate for the promotion of health as a public and social good.

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While Ramaphosa says the enforcement of intellectual property rights is critical to research and development, he argues that a temporary waiver of these is necessary to deal with the global emergency that COVID-19 presents.

He says not putting health technologies at the disposal of all countries to access and build capacity to manufacture the drugs is tantamount to vaccine apartheid.

He says if the international community is truly committed to human rights, vaccines should be viewed as a global public good.

The President has called on South Africans to support the waiver, saying vaccines should be “a global public good”.

“It is about affirming our commitment to the advancement of equality and human rights, not just in our own country but around the world,” he wrote.

“A situation in which the populations of advanced, rich countries are safely inoculated while millions in poorer countries die in the queue would be tantamount to vaccine apartheid.”

Sub-Saharan Africa has administered the fewest vaccines relative to its population of any region, with roughly 8 doses per 1 000 people versus 150 doses per 1 000 people globally, according to the World Health Organisation.

Ramaphosa recalled that twenty years ago South Africa faced off against “big pharma” over efforts to import and manufacture affordable generic antiretroviral medicines to treat people with HIV/AIDS.

“Years later, the world is in the grip of another deadly pandemic in the form of COVID-19. And once again, South Africa is waging a struggle that puts global solidarity to the test,” he said.

He said South Africa was one of only five countries on the African continent able to manufacture vaccines and that there was a need for new capacity to be built.

-Additional reporting by Reuters