Where are Africa’s vaccines?

15 March 2020

Conscience of a Centrist

The novel coronavirus has once again exposed the biggest achil­les heel of South Africa and the rest of the continent – our over-reliance on big multinational drug companies and overseas universities for our longevity.

It would appear that the colonial pro­ject was a success – with all the uni­versities on the continent, not one can claim that it is at the forefront of de­veloping a vaccine for the deadly vi­rus, just like those that came before it.

No! It must be the West that must, when they are good and ready, come up with a vaccine for the virus.

The usual suspects – Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline – are the ones expected to come to the world’s rescue.

It is an indictment on the continent’s leadership that decades after independ­ence, the continent still does not have the capacity to develop and manufac­ture vaccines that are critical to reduce mortality, improve life expectancy and promote economic growth, yet the continent has the highest incidents of deaths caused by infectious diseases, ebola being a good case study.

This surely cannot be the future of millions of young people who call this beautiful continent home, a continent that is home to the world’s youngest population.

The elusive “African solutions for African problems” should not only be a pursuit to settle many of our polit­ical machinations, but should extend to industry and the sciences.

That is the only way we can renew the continent and build an economy with the African characteristic of ubuntu, where human life and digni­ty means more than profits.

Conversely, Africa, with its high pop­ulation and economic growth, is an in­creasing potential market for vaccines – that means the big Western phar­maceutical bullies coin it every time a deadly virus visits our shores.

This is why a state-owned pharma­ceutical company is critical.

By not taking decisive steps to ca­pacitate the continent and its people to be at the forefront of vaccine research and development in the world, we are ceding our intellectual capital to our erstwhile colonisers.

It is as if Africa has forgotten the wise counsel of one its finest sons, Steve Biko, when he said: “The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an indus­trial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face.”

Giving the world a more human face means being able to treat our children, using African minds and ingenuity.

It means developing African science and medicine. It means building Africa’s capacity to address its own problems, using its own institutions and resources.

Our universities must be centres of excellence where research and innovation is the order of the day.


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