These six African countries are making mRNA vaccines as part of a new WHO scheme.

Crash course: messenger Ribonucleic acid (mRNA) is a single-stranded molecule of RNA that corresponds to the genetic sequence of a gene. This is read by a ribosome in the process of synthesizing a protein. What’s going on here? Well…, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Tunisia are among the first African countries to receive the technology needed in making mRNA vaccines from a scheme headed by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the WHO, the aforementioned African countries will soon be making their mRNA vaccine as part of a new scheme.

Related media: mRNA Vaccines, Explained

Whence Cometh mRNA Vaccine?

“The best way to address health emergencies and reach universal health coverage is to significantly increase the capacity of all regions to manufacture the health products they need,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general at WHO, in a statement.

The new WHO scheme is one of the ground-breaking projects aimed at assisting low- and middle-income countries in producing mRNA vaccines at scale, and according to international standards. This is also aimed at reducing the dependency of most African countries on vaccines manufactured outside the continent. The WHO has established its global mRNA technology transfer hub in an effort to curb down high prices of vaccines from wealthy countries that Africa cannot afford.

This announcement came in the same week that BioNTech — the producers of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 (an mRNA vaccine) announced plans to deliver factory facilities (in the form of shipping containers) to several African countries to ensure that the Pfizer vaccine is produced on the continent.

Image: PAHO / iStock / Getty Images Plus

“No other event like the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that reliance on a few companies to supply global public goods is limiting, and dangerous,” said Dr. Ghebreyesus, while announcing the first recipients of the technology in South Africa in February 2022. “The hub will be not just for South Africa, it’s for Africa, Africa, and the whole world, because the spokes will be distributed all over the world.”

Developing mRNA Vaccines In Africa

This is not only in efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, but the mRNA hub will go a long way to provide the capacity for the manufacturing of other vaccines and products. These include insulin for diabetes, cancer-related diseases, and, potentially, vaccines for known epidemics on the continent such as malariatuberculosis, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Image: Phill Magakoe / AFP / Getty Images

The ultimate goal of this WHO scheme is to spread the capacity for a national and regional production of all health technologies needed in Africa. Clinical trials are expected to start by the fourth quarter of this year, with approval expected by 2024, although this process can be sped up, according to Dr. Ghebreyesus.

He has even repeatedly called for action to be taken for equitable access to vaccines to curb the pandemic and has been against developed countries for hoarding doses which have left African countries marginalized in the fight against the pandemic.

Tedros added that this initiative would “extend far beyond COVID-19, by creating a platform for vaccines against other diseases including malaria, tuberculosis and even cancer.”

He pointed out in his statement at the announcement that 116 countries globally were still off-track for the target of vaccinating 70 percent of the population by the middle of this year. Meanwhile, 80 percent of Africans were yet to receive a single dose. As of the launch of the new scheme, roughly one percent of the vaccines used in Africa are produced on the continent of about 1.3 billion people.

A Hope To End Marginalization

The WHO stated that it would work with these six countries to develop a roadmap for training and also the support needed so production of the mRNA vaccine can commence as soon as possible. Training is already underway. However, in South Africa, the mRNA hub is already producing the vaccine at a laboratory scale and is now making plans for a commercial scale.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa made an announcement that this “means mutual respect, mutual recognition of what we can all bring to the party, investment in our economies, infrastructure investment and, in many ways, giving back to the continent.”

French President Emmanuel Macron added that supporting Africa was essential to the health sovereignty of the continent. One of the key goals of starting up local production.

This is “to empower regions and countries to fend for themselves, during crises, and in peacetime,” Macron said.

“The lack of a market for vaccines produced in Africa is something that should be concerning to all of us. Organizations such as Covax and Gavi need to commit to buying vaccines from local manufacturers instead of going outside of those hubs that have been set up,” Ramaphosa said.

Source: WHO

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Fri, Feb 25, 2022.

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