The Mastercard Foundation and Africa CDC have announced a partnership dedicated to enabling Covid-19 vaccination in Africa and supporting Africa’s long-term health security. Reeta Roy, President and CEO, Mastercard Foundation and John Nkengasong, Director, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) describe how it will engage with and help deal with the biggest crisis the continent is currently facing.
Four crucial commitments – Reeta Roy
When we launched the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative in June, we made four commitments. One: to purchase vaccines for at least 50m people. Two: to enable the vaccination of millions more individuals across Africa by supporting the logistics of vaccine delivery and administration. Three: to enable vaccine manufacturing on the continent by developing human capital. Four: we committed to strengthening the Africa CDC’s capacity to oversee a historic vaccination exercise and respond to future public health threats.
Following the announcement, the Africa CDC hit the ground running, spearheading conversations with governments to understand their needs and specific challenges; recruiting partners to support on-the-ground implementation and doing the ‘not-so-exciting’ back-end work that makes vaccine delivery possible.
Since the launch of the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative in June, we have also seen several other encouraging developments. The G7 pledged up to a billion vaccines, some of which will be directed to Africa. These pledges, and the agreement with Johnson & Johnson that was negotiated by the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), will help us get closer to the African Union’s goal of vaccinating at least 60% of the population.
Of course, we need to see these vaccines become physically available. And soon. While they are trickling in, the global vaccine supply remains constricted as the need on the continent becomes ever-more urgent. That’s one of the biggest challenges. We need to see a significant ramp up in global production to ensure Africa can achieve its vaccination targets and timelines.
Driving domestic vaccine production
That is part of the impetus for the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative’s focus on enabling vaccine manufacturing. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the role that domestic vaccine production has to play in Africa’s health and economic security.
In July, the Africa CDC launched the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) to convene the private sector, donors, public health experts and governments to create a continental framework for manufacturing vaccines. Governments have shown significant interest and we’ve seen recent commitments of partnerships to set up manufacturing in different countries.
This has the potential to be catalytic and transformative, driving improved health outcomes while creating economic opportunities and jobs for young people. At the Mastercard Foundation, our work is guided by our Young Africa Works strategy, which aims to enable 30m young Africans, particularly young women, to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030. We expect that the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative will contribute to achieving this goal.
Partnerships are vital – Dr John Nkengasong
Africa is at a pivotal point in the fight against Covid-19, and swift, coordinated and decisive action must be taken to save lives and livelihoods.
As a key starting point, all stakeholders have to make a commitment to work together to tackle this challenge and succeed. We’ve seen tremendous progress in vaccine access in Africa and there is still a large amount of work to do.
Partnerships between public, private and social impact sectors are going to be vital for success. The partnership between Africa CDC and the Mastercard Foundation is an example of the sort of collaboration required for tangible impact on a massive scale.
It’s important to emphasise also that Africa has the inherent capacity and systems to deliver large-scale vaccination to protect our populations. Ethiopia conducted a highly successful measles campaign in 2020. We saw similar efforts during the Ebola epidemic and subsequent outbreaks.
Additionally, across the continent there was early, wide-range planning for Covid-19 vaccination, and a coordinated response across the region, which helped to prevent the crisis from spreading across the world.
We have learned lessons from past crises and over 35 African countries had already developed national vaccination plans before the Covid-19 vaccines began arriving in bulk on the continent.
Of course, there is still a huge gap between what we need and what we have, especially as new variants emerge and we have to change our strategies. But there are mechanisms and partnerships, such as the AU’s Covid-19 Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), which has already secured 400m single-dose vaccines for the continent, that help in our ability to respond.
This does not detract from the fact that the number of vaccines available to Africa still represents too small a portion of the global supply, and the financial costs to purchase, deliver, and administer vaccines remain significant.
Vaccine hesitancy has also been a serious issue in various parts of the continent, although concerns regarding the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, as well as myths and misinformation, are a global issue.
The key message is that global data shows that Covid-19 vaccines have proven to be safe, effective and life-saving, and the vaccines approved by WHO for emergency use listing are required to have a high efficacy rate of 50% or above. After approval, they continue to be monitored for ongoing safety and effectiveness.
Africa CDC is currently recruiting even more specialist firms for Covid-19 Safety Surveillance in AU Member States. But we also recognise that despite all that, there is a growing urgency for us to do more to tackle vaccine hesitancy.
Africa CDC takes this communication and vaccine awareness challenge very seriously and with support from the Mastercard Foundation Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative, we are deploying a rapid response team, to inform and encourage people from vulnerable groups to get vaccinated.
We are also in the midst of a strong recruitment drive to further expand our Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) teams, so that they can effectively address the needs on the ground.
Over 100 new technical experts and support staff will join our teams across the entire region within the next few months and they will contribute to the work which new firms will take on to set up and manage Covid-19 vaccination centres, and to recruit and train vaccinators across all AU Member States.
Local vaccine manufacture
The local manufacturing of vaccines will undoubtedly and rapidly scale our efforts to reach more people on the continent. There are numerous benefits to vaccine manufacturing in Africa, including bolstering the resistance of our public health systems while building sustainability for future health crises, a marked improvement in the skilled labour pool, and the ability to provide time-sensitive and locally-adept responses to areas that experience unexpected outbreaks.
Other emerging markets, especially those with large domestic populations such as Brazil, India, and Indonesia, have built successful domestic vaccine industries. We are working to ensure Africa is in a position to do the same across all regions, and we are pleased that this goal is becoming a reality.
Africa CDC is working hand in hand with AU Member States and consulting with national health authorities to understand the status of their access to vaccines through COVAX, AVATT, and/or other bilateral arrangements as well as the support needed to establish or expand national vaccination roll-out plans and local manufacturing capabilities.
South Africa, Rwanda and Senegal recently announced their readiness for vaccine manufacture, a move that will help address the continent’s need for more vaccine doses. The goal is for more countries to do the same.
In April, we held the first summit for the launch of the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM), hosted by H.E. Felix Tshisekedi, Chair of the African Union Commission and President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was attended by over 40,000 people via Zoom, YouTube, and Facebook.
We heard from more than 70 expert panellists. The event included the live, virtual signing of two Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) between the AU and CEPI, and Afreximbank and the Africa Finance Corporation.
In July, we held the inaugural meeting for the PAVM Taskforce, where we launched seven work streams which we have identified to be critical for creating the enabling environment to ensure that we succeed in our ambition.
The most encouraging aspect of this initiative is how committed the private sector members have been to supporting the agenda. It goes to show that when African leaders articulate a clear, unifying strategy, specifically for vaccine manufacturing across the continent, it becomes easier to negotiate with big industry.
That said, vaccine manufacturing is complex and requires huge financial investments and a long-term vision. It is a long-distance race, not a 100-metre dash. We must begin with the end in mind.