African countries should make plans to improve the continent’s capacity in pharmaceutical and vaccine production – Okonjo-Iwela


The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says it is an anomaly for Africa to import 99 percent of its vaccines and 90 percent of its pharmaceuticals.

According to the WTO DG, it is important for African countries to start making long-term plans to improve the continent’s capacity in pharmaceutical and vaccine production.

She stated this on Thursday at the 2021 Mo Ibrahim Good Governance Weekend forum which was held virtually.

The event was titled “Lessons from the Pandemic: An urgent call to strengthen Africa’s health Capacities.

The Ibrahim Governance Weekend is a yearly event that celebrates good governance and leadership in Africa.

According to the WTO DG, there are existing capacities in emerging markets and developing countries to increase the production of vaccines but noted that there is a supply constraint.

“So, investing in turn-around capacity in existing and emerging markets like Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Africa, Indonesia, Senegal will help to increase volumes of vaccines available and also investing in longer-term production capacity is also important.

“80 percent of vaccine exports come from 10 countries in North America, Europe and South Asia.

“We’ve seen that that concentration does not work. It is an anomalous that a continent like Africa with 1.3 billion people imports 99 percent of its vaccines and 90 percent of its pharmaceuticals.

“Production of vaccines ought to be better decentralised,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

She added that trade has contributed to helping to move vaccines and medical supplies around.

“Despite the fact that trade shrank by 7 percent in 2020, trade in medical supplies grew by 16 percent in value. For Personal Protective Equipment, by 50 percent and for face masks, by 200 percent,” she said.

She also said lowering export restrictions to help the supply chain is very important, noting that trade restrictions put in place by WTO members have been reduced from 109 to 51 during the pandemic.

In his opening remark, the Sudanese-British billionaire businessman, Mo Ibrahim noted that 2020 had been a tough year in dealing with the pandemic due to the fragile state of health services, shortage of intensive care beds and the shortage of protective gears across Africa,

Ibrahim also accused rich countries of hoarding the COVID-19 vaccines.

He said, “We have seen rich countries hoarding vaccines while preaching nobody is safe until everybody is safe.”

He, however, said despite how bad the year has been, he is optimistic about the next year

Amongst other reasons, he said, “I feel optimistic because many African leaders demonstrated good leadership in facing up to the pandemic, closing grants and working together in procuring vaccines, sharing meagre resources and articulating a unified strong true African voice.

“I hope we can focus now on developing our recovery plans and resetting our growth models. We need new models,” he said.

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