By Kemo Cham
For Africa to better protect itself from preventable diseases, it must stop relying on outsiders for its vaccine needs, leaders and experts said as the third edition of the Conference on Public Health In Africa (CPHIA2023) kicks off in the Zambian capital, Lusaka on Monday.
Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO), Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and government representatives from across the continent said there was the need for Africa to be able to manufacture its own vaccines, and they called for collaboration and investment to achieve this.
Dr Jean Kaseye, Director General of the Africa CDC, said African governments should create partnerships to manufacture vaccines and make their health systems resilient. This, he noted, is a crucial part of the continent’s preparation for future pandemic.
“Only one percent of vaccines used in Africa comes from Africa. Only 5 percent of diagnostics used in Africa come from Africa. Only between 25 and 30 percent of medicines used in Africa come from Africa. We need to stop it,” said Dr Kaseye.
“This imbalance underscores the urgent need to strengthen biomedical manufacturing capabilities to harness the self-reliance and reduce vulnerability to supply disruption,” he added.
The topics under discussion at CPHIA 2023 include financing of health, vaccine availability and the impact of climate change on public health.
Over 5000 delegates from across Africa and beyond are gathered in the Zambian capital, Lusaka to discuss progress made in the last year since the last edition of the annual event was held in Kigali, Rwanda.
This year’s edition is being held on the theme: ‘Breaking barriers: Repositioning Africa in the Global Health Architecture.’
Zambian President Hakainde Hitchilema presided over the opening session of the conference taking place in the Mulungushi International Conference Center.
According to President Hitchilema, collaboration is important not just among Africans but also between the continent and Western firms with the expertise and resources in manufacturing the vaccines.
He cited the experience of Africa at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when wealthy nations prioritized their citizens for available supplies, which he said speaks to why the continent must ensure it has control over what it needs to prevent such recurrence.
“At the African Union level, as presidents, we are resolved to talk about the importance of Africa getting the best as others are in any part of the world,” said President Hitchilema.
Also in attendance at CPHIA2023 is World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyusus, who stressed on the importance of a united Africa in its effort to attain relevance in global health discourse. He cited how he got elected to head WHO as the first African to do so only because all of the continent stood beside him. Ghebreyusus said the same attitude led to the election of many other Africans at other top global bodies, including UNAIDS and the International Labour Organisation, among others.
“It is very important for Africa to continue to be united,” he stressed.