Dr Okonjo Iweala, the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has urged global leaders to not be selfish in this pandemic as lives are at stake.
She is thus calling for vaccine supply chains and the transfer of vaccine technology to Africa.
Dr Okonjo Iweala made these remarks in a sideline event on health during the United Nations General Assembly. Deliberations at the event were aimed at scaling up Covid-19 vaccine production and access in the wake of a pandemic that has crippled health care systems in Africa.
“We are taking action… supply chains for vaccines are very complicated… making sure supply chains flow… We need to lift restrictions so that manufacturers can get what they need,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “Vaccine nationalism doesn’t pay… We’ve got to let technology be transferred. We can’t be selfish in this pandemic. Lives are at stake.”
The Future Investment Initiative Institute hosted the virtual event on Tuesday, September 21, 2021, as part of a series of panel sessions around the themes of vaccines, resilience and global health.
Balancing the scales of global health
In a panel discussion that brought together AfDB’s President Akinwumi A. Adesina, WTO’s director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Global Infrastructure Partners vice chairman and partner Jim Yong Kim, the focus was to look at balancing the scales of global health and the consequences of the novel coronavirus.
Sharing perspectives on building a resilient Africa against future pandemic and other health crisis, Dr Adesina emphasized the need to build Africa’s manufacturing and healthcare capacity.
Responding to a question posed by CNN anchor Richard Quest who moderated the session about what they as world leaders were doing to close the dangerous health gap, Okonjo Iweala highlighted her top two priorities.
First, she indicated her commitment to get countries with excess vaccine access to donate them to COVAX. Second, she pointed out that her intention is to “get richer countries to swap places with poorer countries on the waiting list for vaccines.”
Noting what Africa needed in the long-term, she noted, building Africa’s capacity to manufacture is the way to go. “We need to decentralize manufacturing,” she added.
On the same question, Dr Adesina noted that: “Africa cannot outsource its health to the rest of the world. We’ve got to build Africa’s indigenous manufacturing capacity.… We need to secure ourselves.”
At his turn, Jim Yong Kim decried the lack of leadership in the present global health crisis.
“Where is the coalition that will say this is an unprecedented challenge?… What we now need is leadership… We had a similar problem treating people with HIV… we can solve them for the vaccine shortage.”Jim Yong Kim, Global Infrastructure Partners vice chairman and partner
Meanwhile, on the Bank’s part, Dr Adesina said the African Development Bank would contribute US$3 billion to the development of Africa’s pharmaceutical industry over the next 10 years.
“What is needed in the long term is building Africa’s pharmaceutical capacity,” Dr. Adesina emphasized.
Nonetheless, the biggest hurdle against such a feat are the various restrictions and trade barriers, intellectual property rights and lack of raw materials, which are making it even harder for African countries to get into the game.
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