Health Care

Director-General’s live speech at Ministerial Meeting of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union on access to vaccines against the COVID-19 pandemic for the African continent: Challenges to human security in Africa

African Union Peace and Security Council, 22 May 2021

Your Excellency Minister Sabri Boukadoum, Chair of the Peace and Security Council,

Your Excellency Vice-Prime Minister Christophe Lutundula,

Your Excellency Minister Naledi Pandor,

Your Excellency Moussa Faki Mahamat,

Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Ambassadors, dear colleagues and friends,

I would like to thank the African Union Peace and Security Council for inviting me to take part in this important meeting.

I commend the AU for its bold leadership during the pandemic, as illustrated by the continental COVID-19 strategy. And for your information, Africa is the only continent that has a unified strategy, thanks to the leadership of president Ramaphosa and his colleagues.

At the same time, we cannot let down our guard. What is happening now in many other parts of the world can also happen in Africa.

As the world starts to re-open, Africa must not be left behind. And that I think is the message from many of the speakers before me. This is why solidarity is so important, working together to advocate both for increased dose sharing, and in the long term, to establish vaccine production.

We are pleased that with the support of COVAX, 47 countries in the African continent have started vaccinating. However, the volumes of vaccines are nowhere near enough.

So far, Africa has administered just over 25 million doses, or 1.5% of the global total. And this is tragic.

WHO is working day in and day out to bring immediate solutions for the equitable distribution of vaccine doses.

In the past two weeks, we are seeing some progress, especially yesterday at the Global Health Summit, a lot of pledges have been made, with a good number of countries committing to share and equitable distribution of vaccines, but vaccine nationalism still holds us back.

For the medium and long term, we are working to support the increase in production and technology transfer with countries, companies and partners, including with the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team and the Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing, which was launched by Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the African Union last month.

We thank South Africa for its bold leadership in the initiative to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines. And we call upon all African countries to support this initiative.

We continue to work with countries and companies to find ways of sharing technology and know-how to manufacture vaccines, including IP waiver.

WHO has recently launched the vaccine technology transfer hub as part of a COVAX Task Force to boost production capacity.

We seek your support for the draft resolution on local production at the 74th session of the World Health Assembly this coming week.

WHO will continue to support, both financially and technically, the African Union to establish the African Medicines Agency, which we expect will strengthen regulatory capacity and stimulate local production.

We will also continue to support my brother Michel Sidibé, the special envoy, and we are glad to see that he is already making progress in the ratification process.

Excellencies, I would like to leave you with three priorities.

First, production.

The pandemic has demonstrated that Africa cannot rely solely on imports of vaccines from the rest of the world.

We must build that capacity, not only for COVID-19 vaccines, but for other vaccines and medical products. But at the same time we have to focus on the immediate solution of vaccine sharing, as I said earlier.

Second, prevention.

Vaccines alone will not end this pandemic. The same public health measures that have been the bedrock of the continental strategy must remain central to the response.

That means strengthened surveillance, increased testing, careful contact tracing, supported quarantine, and compassionate care.

And it means empowering and engaging communities to continue with the individual precautions that we know work: physical distancing, avoiding crowds, wearing masks, cleaning hands, and opening windows.

And third, preparedness.

We must all learn the lessons the pandemic is teaching us and do everything we can to prepare for, prevent, detect and respond rapidly to future epidemics and pandemics. There is no global health security without local health security.

We thank those AU Member States that have expressed support for the idea of a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response, and we seek the support of all Member States for the treaty at the World Health Assembly next week.

One of the strengths of the treaty is that it is fundamentally representative, as it belongs to all 194 Member States, regardless of size or GDP.

As has been demonstrated many times, health can be a bridge to peace.

WHO, in partnership with our global, multi-sectoral networks, supports countries to strengthen health systems to enable inclusive people-centred and community-led approaches for preparedness and response to health emergencies, with a focus on resilience and trust building.

And at the core of all of our efforts is universal health coverage, based on strong primary health care, which is the cornerstone of social, economic and political stability.

As the pandemic has highlighted, health is not a product of strong and prosperous nations; it is the means.

I thank you. Thank you again, your Excellency chair, my brother Sabri, for your kind introduction and also thank you for your leadership.

Source: World Health Organization

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