Processes to finalise a R25 million investment to boost pan-African vaccine manufacturing is currently underway, says President Cyril Ramaphosa.
This announcement was made during a virtual National COVID-19 Conference on Friday.
The conference, which brought together scientists, governments, business and civil society from all over the world, provided a platform for open discussions and contribute to a greater understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on society and the economy.
The conference focused on health innovations and technologies, and social and economic sustainability during and after the pandemic.
Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, delivered the President’s address to the conference on his behalf.
In the address, the President said the international community is unanimous in that services, supplies, products and technologies for prevention, treatment and care of COVID-19 must be available to all.
No country must be left behind, he said.
In addition, resource constraints pose a very real barrier to the ability of vulnerable countries to manage the pandemic.
“Science, technology and innovation has proven to be an important tool for generating valuable insights and for the delivery of effective solutions. A platform such as this one enables scientists, governments, business and civil society to engage in open discussion, to share experiences and best practice, and to chart the way ahead.”
While behavioural change is a key element in fighting the pandemic, the President also spoke of the need to develop technological solutions.
“We know that every strategy to manage COVID-19 must focus on behavioural change, and that social distancing and proper hygiene are our safest and best bets at this time. By equal measure, we must continue to work tirelessly to develop technological solutions that meet our most pressing challenge, and that is resource scarcity,” said President Ramaphosa.
The President also announced that the country would soon witness the very first ventilators produced by the South African National Ventilator Project coming off the assembly line at a factory in Cape Town.
“These locally-produced ventilators will complement existing stock in the public and private health system and those purchased from or donated by other countries,” President Ramaphosa said.
President Ramaphosa also noted that a number of South African innovators have taken up the challenge of addressing the need for COVID-19 solutions.
These included the bulk-production of hand sanitisers, developing self-screening assessment tools in local languages and pioneering contact-tracing applications.
Investing in Africa
President Ramaphosa reiterated that the COVID-19 pandemic must be a clarion call for African nations to invest in what is already a vibrant pan-African science and innovation ecosystem.
The President said investment in research and innovation has enabled South Africa to respond effectively to the pandemic.
“We have been able to support the national COVID-19 response in critical areas, including the development and provision of diagnostic tools, ventilators and personal protective equipment, and in epidemiological modelling and data analytics.”
Research and innovation
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, South Africa has been able to harness innovations like telemedicine to protect patients and healthcare workers from exposure to the virus.
“The introduction of COVID Connect has enabled over 6 million citizens and healthcare workers to access information on the pandemic through mobile messaging platforms. South African researchers are working in collaboration with international vaccine developers around a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
“The South African Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Department of Science and Innovation have provided R10 million funding for the first South African COVID-19 vaccine trial. Our researchers and scientists have the expertise to develop human vaccines, having been involved in the development of several other vaccines,” said the President.
However, the President said, it is not just in the research space that the country has demonstrated its capability.
“We also have important laboratory infrastructure. The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) has contracted with a number of universities and government-funded platforms to assist with additional capacity to conduct COVID-19 testing. We have also developed a pathway for the potential production of COVID-19 vaccines locally.
“South Africa is part of a traditional medicine panel set up in partnership with the World Health Organization to assist in developing protocols for various aspects of traditional medicine usage. The MRC has also brought together a number of government, academic and industry partners to support the development and local production of diagnostic kits and reagents for COVID-19,” he said.
The President emphasised that harnessing the potential of science, technology and innovation for vaccine production, and other manufacturing is not just about security of supply, but it is also about boosting local capabilities, supporting local industries and creating jobs.
He said strategic partnerships in science, technology and innovation will play an important role in South Africa’s economic recovery.
He said opportunities in sectors like low-carbon energy and circular and green economies should be explored, as countries strive to rebuild their economies.
“There is immense potential for kick-starting economic growth in the uptake of innovation and in driving technological solutions for the delivery of services. It is crucial that we maintain the momentum of international cooperation and solidarity to ensure inclusivity not just in the provision of life-saving therapeutics for COVID-19, but also in sustainable economic recovery.
The President said science, technology and innovation are key to healthier populations, productivity and progress.
“It is of the utmost importance that they remain a public good. As we collectively strive to overcome this pandemic, we must share experience and expertise.”
In addition, countries must pool resources through joint investments, data sharing and reciprocal access to research infrastructure.
“We must reinforce global solidarity through science diplomacy. This conference provides a valuable platform to advance these efforts and to affirm the absolute necessity of health innovation as a vital resource for the common good,” President Ramaphosa said.