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To honour Magufuli, Africa should strengthen science diplomacy

ONE of the lessons learnt during the tenure of former president John Magufuli is determination for self-reliance and the yes we can attitude.

No better words can explain that than speeches given by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera of Kenya and Malawi respectively during the official national mourning day in Dodoma on 22nd March, 2021.

The late JPM has proven that with determination and thinking out of the box, impossible may become possible and within a short time. The fire he lighted among people in and outside Tanzania is astonishing. At the driver’s seat, JPM and his fellow leaders tried very hard to curve a new narrative as far as development in Africa is concerned.

At this juncture, I would like to suggest that in honoring JPM, Africa should work hard to strengthen her capacity in various scientific endeavours, be sure of what is going on in the world and have capacity to solve problems when needs arise. To explain my point, I will zero in on the issue to do with vaccines and particularly Covid-19 vaccines and Africa.

We can ask ourselves, why does Africa always look East or West in search of solutions to problems afflicting the continent? This is an old and great debate indeed. Economists, psychologists, sociologists, journalists, researchers, Pan Africanists and others have been and continue to probe into this issue of Africa’s dependence on outside powers.

And as we mourn our leader, I ask this same question again in the wake of a recent global rush to Covid-19 vaccine. It is not my intention to question safety and efficacy matters of vaccines.

I neither want to discuss politics surrounding the pandemic and its effects to the poor nor to relate Covid-19 to thoughts advanced by authors and experts such as Kevin Mugur Galalae in his book titled: Killing Us Softly: The Global Depopulation Policy.

A renown Dr Wolfgang Wodarg and Robert Francis Kennedy, a Professor Emeritus at Pace and the nephew to former U.S. president John F. Kennedy and many experts around the world have expressed caution against Covid vaccines. These have been labeled anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theorists. Their voices have been crushed.

A Pan African activist, Sibelo Sibanda who visited Tanzania some few weeks ago, reminded us to always ask ‘right questions’ because it is through that that we will get to know right answers. So, back to our concern here, can the continent produce its own vaccines?

Morena Makhoana, the South Africa’s CEO of Biovac Institute, an organisation that was established in 2003 as a public-private partnership to respond to the need for vaccine manufacturing capabilities told The African Report recently that Africa needs 200 million US dollars to jumpstart and to revamp its vaccine models but cautioned that funding is only one part of a complex equation.

Makhoana did not rule out the possibility of manufacturing of vaccines in the continent but noted that the whole thing is complicated by the fact that large proportion of the vaccine supply that flows into the continent is funded through donor initiatives.

So, what will be the likelihood, for example, for African countries to purchase vaccine doses from another African country and not from the long traditional donor partners? How sustainable will such ventures be? Working individually may become difficult but by pulling resources together, Africa can do something for the interest of Africans.

And I am not negating a fact that we have grown up being inoculated with vaccines from outside and which helped us obviously. But, that does not mean that we should not think or have strategies to develop things of our own going forward. We know of variety of vaccines produced in Europe and the U.S.

Russians have their Sputnic V. Cubans have their Soberana 2. China has CoronaVac. Africa has nothing of her own. Statistics show that almost 17 per cent of the world’s population lives in Africa — but it produces less than 1 per cent of all the world’s vaccines. It is a matter of fact that as the population is booming in Africa, so will be the need for vaccines.

According to the UN World Population Prospects, 2015, 11 out of 16 top high populous countries by 2050 will be in Africa. Among them are Tanzania, DR Congo, Uganda and Kenya. This reality calls for a more robust systems to become independent when it comes to vaccines.

The current minimal efforts of human vaccines manufacturing in five countries of Senegal, Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, and Ethiopia should be strengthened and accelerated. In his paper titled: Vaccines Manufacturing in Africa: Self-sufficiency: A need or a dream?

William Ampofo, a professor of medicine from Ghana and the head of the Africa Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative (AVMI), says that in addition to improving response to emergency situations, African vaccine manufacturing could improve security and sustainability of vaccine supply, respond to unmet health needs of a growing population and aid socioeconomic development in Africa.

According to the expert, vaccine production in Africa will help address security of vaccine supply, addressing Africa specific disease burden, dealing efficiently with pandemic diseases, responding the unmet needs, growing population and market and socioeconomic, industry and life science development.

Although he raises crucial questions such as cost of production, time needed to build vaccine production facility (7-10 years) and highly skilled human resources required for bio-manufacturing (It takes a generation to build this essential work-force), he still believes that time to take actions is now.

“It’s a very difficult process,” he admitted. “But if we don’t start now, we’ll still be sitting here talking in five years’ time,” he told Deutsche Welle in 2018. And sure, we are still talking about the same today, three years later. The future calls us to do something not only in matters to do with vaccines, but in other scientific front as well.

In 2015, Bill Gates gave a TED Talk speech and warned people that an infectious virus was a greater risk to humanity than nuclear war and regularly called for world governments to step up their pandemic response plans. We are all witnessing the prophecy today.

On February 4th this year, Mr Gates again told one Derek Muller over a video call that the next disasters are climate change and bioterrorism. How are we prepared? Africa need to strengthen science diplomacy for its secured future and by doing that will be honoring the late JPM who often loved to say ‘Tunaweza’ (that we can).

Emmanuel Rubagumya, Email: innovationstz@gmail.com

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