EU vows to help African ‘health sovereignty’ after Covid

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The EU will step up its support of Africa’s healthcare and vaccine production to ensure that the continent can respond to future health emergencies, the bloc’s health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Monday (5 February).

Speaking at a joint press conference with the senior officials from the African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Addis Ababa, Kyriakides told reporters that the EU was commited to “fully-fledged African health sovereignty,”

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Belgian development minister Caroline Gennez, whose government currently holds the six month rotating EU presidency, said that “promising” steps were being taken on production of vaccines and medical technology.

However, the Belgian minister conceded that the two sides had also looked “at ways that we have let each other down in the past,” and that African ministers had complained of having been “left behind” during the pandemic.

She was referring to the widespread frustration among African leaders at the way in which the EU acquired millions of surplus Covid vaccines and was then slow to disburse them to African states, prompting claims of ‘vaccine nationalism’. This was then compounded by the EU’s opposition to waiving patent protection on vaccines.

There had been “some shaken confidence following the pandemic, but I hope our African colleagues still trust us,” said Gennez.

Since the EU-Africa summit in March 2022, €1.3bn had been mobilised for the production of vaccines across Africa, said Kyriakides, adding that there are currently over 80 projects supporting the African CDC and African medicines agency.

The EU has also promised financial support to fund three vaccine hubs in Africa, which could eventually, be developed into pharmaceutical production facilities.

“Health is a policy area where cooperation and knowledge-sharing provide benefits for all. We can only be healthy here in Europe if Africa is also healthy. African countries have great experience in containing new epidemics, and Europe with the best and most accessible healthcare in the world,” said Gennez.

Only three percent of all medicines and vaccines are produced on the African continent, even though it represents 11 percent of the world’s population.

Last week, the European Medicines Agency announced that it had begun a €10m programme to support the new African Medicines Agency, which is being established by the AU as part of its plans to implement the African Continental Free Trade Area. The new trade bloc, which has been ratified by 54 African states, is intended to eliminate tariff and customs barriers across the continent.

The EU will also host a summit with the AU on global health on 20 March.

Africa’s pharmaceutical sector has been frustrated by its inability to achieve economies of scale with output that can compete with the big producers of India and China. African Union officials hope that the AMA will help harmonise medical regulation across the continent and significantly speed up drug and vaccine registration procedure.

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