Rwanda has signed a Rwf3.6 billion ($3.6 million) partnership with the European Union to help upgrade the country’s laboratory capacity to help it attract investors to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines.
The funds will be used to strengthen the Foods and Drugs Authority's quality control for medical products, to enable the regulator acquire necessary certification from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“What we signed is a step to revamp and also strengthen the Rwanda Foods and Drugs Authority. The money we will receive from the EU will support the acquisition of laboratory equipment to make it a modern facility that will enable Rwanda to get a WHO certification,” Clare Akamanzi, Chief Executive Officer, Rwanda Development Board told CNBC Africa on Thursday.
“The WHO certification we need for this will also build the confidence of investors who want to produce vaccines. They (investors) will be able to trust the regulatory capacity we want to strengthen with this funding.”
Rwanda plans to start manufacturing coronavirus vaccines using mRNA technology after it secured international backing to build local capacity in the coming months.
Last week, Rwandan President Paul Kagame told the Qatar Economic Forum that the negotiations with partners to manufacture vaccines locally have advanced and the process will start “in a few months.”
He was speaking shortly after Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa were announced as potential candidates for hosting Africa’s regional Covid-19 vaccines production hubs.
“For Rwanda, in particular, we have partnered with some industries that are specialising in mRNA technology. So, we have already discussed that technology with people who will help with financing and I think in a few months we should hear a different story,” President Kagame said.
Africa, President Kagame added, has to be an equal partner with the rest of the world and manufacture vaccines as the continent continues to grapple with a blockage on supplies.
And while currently, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Senegal have the capacity to produce Covid-19 vaccines, restrictions on intellectual property (IP) rights for Covid-19 vaccines has made it impossible.
Vaccine deliveries to Africa through the Covax facility ground to a near halt in May as the Serum Institute of India diverted doses for domestic use. Between February and May, the continent received just about a quarter – 18.2 million – of the 66 million expected doses through Covax, according to WHO.
"It’s not a question of if this was a moral failure, it was deliberate.
"Those with the resources pushed their way to the front of the queue and took control of their production assets," Strive Masiyiwa, African Union Special Envoy and coordinator of the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative, recently told a virtual summit by US-based Milken Institute on vaccine equality and equitable distribution.
Masiyiwa expressed frustration that despite willingness by the Africa Union to pay upfront for the vaccines, he was told that manufacturers said “all capacity for 2021 has been sold.”
In May 2021, the European Union announced at the G20 Global Health Summit that an initiative backed by $1.1 billion from its budget will be set to support manufacturing and access to vaccines and health technologies in Africa.
The statement also revealed that the EU and the European Investment Bank (EIB) are in discussions to partner with the government of Rwanda to facilitate and promote investment by pharmaceutical and biotech companies in the country, including exploring opportunities for co-financing potential investments.
“This is an important step in supporting local manufacturing of health products in Africa. Team Europe will continue to support the country and Africa in strengthening the regulatory framework and attracting investment in the pharmaceutical sector,” said Jutta Urpilainem, the European Commissioner for International Partnership.
While Covid-19 vaccination is currently ongoing across Africa, progress remains uneven and the pace remains too slow to significantly lower the risk of death or for the continent to achieve herd immunity as only 0.6 percent of Africa’s adult population is fully vaccinated according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Now, concern is rising that the continent faces a real risk of catastrophe as it is now facing the World’s fastest growth rate for new Covid cases, with analysts at the IMF saying based on the current trends, the third wave will likely surpass previous peaks within the next week.
“It is a human tragedy and an economic calamity. Countries across the continent –from South Africa to Uganda and Rwanda – are forced to reintroduce restrictions, further denting a precarious recovery.
“In the face of new variants, Africa is ill protected, due to severe vaccine shortages. So far, only 0.6 percent of Africa’s adult population have been fully vaccinated…” said Ms Kristalina Georgieva, IMF Managing Director. She spoke at the African Development Bank Annual Meeting on June 23.