SA finalising R25m investment to boost pan-African vaccine manufacturing capabilities

The global race is on to find a vaccine against COVID-19. AFP/File/JOEL SAGET

The SA Medical Research Council and the department of science and innovation have provided R10 million funding for the first South African Covid-19 vaccine trial.

South Africa is in the process of finalising a R25 million investment to boost pan-African Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing capabilities.

This was revealed during the inaugural national Covid-19 virtual conference on Friday, addressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and South Africa’s Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande.

Reading Ramaphosa’s address to the conference, Nzimande said in May, South Africa, as chair of the African Union (AU), took part European Union (EU) Commission’s global coronavirus pledging event.

At the event, South Africa committed to co-invest in the development of diagnostics and therapeutics and in the search for a Covid-19 vaccine.

“We are currently in the process of finalising a R25 million investment to boost pan-African vaccine manufacturing capabilities through the African Renaissance Fund.”

Nzimande said the AU commission’s response to the pandemic “has been impressive, especially its support for the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention”.

He added that South Africa continues to benefit from various international partnerships in the fight against the pandemic, “including the Brics alliance, the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, and the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership”.

The pandemic has “severely challenged the healthcare systems” of countries across the world, he said.

“As the international community, we have been unanimous that services, supplies, products and technologies for prevention, treatment and care of COVID-19 must be available to all. No country must be left behind.”

The minister said constraints on resources “pose a very real barrier to the ability of vulnerable countries to effectively manage the pandemic”, with scientific innovation expected to play a prominent role in this regard.

“A platform such as this one enables scientists, governments, business and civil society to engage in open discussion, to share experiences and best practice, and to chart the way ahead.”

Nzimande said continuous work to develop technological solutions to address resource scarcity is key.

“One looks for instance at the advances in ventilator development and production in developing countries.

“Soon we will witness the very first ventilators produced by the South African National Ventilator Project coming off the assembly line at a factory in Cape Town.

“These locally-produced ventilators will complement existing stock in the public and private health system and those purchased from or donated by other countries.”

Nzimande said the pandemic is a call for all African nations “to invest in what is already a vibrant pan-African science and innovation ecosystem”.

“South African researchers are working in collaboration with international vaccine developers around a potential Covid-19 vaccine.

“The South African Medical Research Council and the Department of Science and Innovation have provided R10 million funding for the first South African Covid-19 vaccine trial.

“Our researchers and scientists have the expertise to develop human vaccines, having been involved in the development of several other vaccines.”

The minister also said the country has developed “a pathway” for the potential production of Covid-19 vaccines locally.

“South Africa is part of a traditional medicine panel set up in partnership with the WHO to assist in developing protocols for various aspects of traditional medicine usage.”

(Compiled by Makhosandile Zulu)

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