South Africa Says ‘No Hesitation’ on Joining African Medicines Agency – WHO Head Tours Cape Town mRNA Vaccine Hub  
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla, second from right, with WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (centre) at Stellenbosch Faculty of Medicine, a member of the WHO co-sponsored new mRNA vaccine hub, on 11 February

Speaking during a tour by WHO’s Director General of Cape Town’s new mRNA vaccine R&D hub that replicated the Moderna COVID vaccine, South Africa’s Health Minister affirms support for the continental-wide medicines regulatory authority. 

CAPE TOWN  – South Africa’s Health Minister signalled that his country intends to join the African Medicines Agency – but that the treaty’s ratification has to be approved by the country’s parliament. 

Speaking during a triumphal tour of top WHO officials Friday to the Cape Town research institutions credited with replicating the Moderna mRNA vaccine recipe, Dr Joe Phaahla, affirmed that: “There is no, in principle, hesitation. It’s more operational in terms of making sure that we do sign the Treaty on the African Medicines Agency. 

But he said that the treaty ratification could still be a “lengthy process” because it has to go through the legislative process: “It’s got to be processed through our parliamentary process and be approved.  So we will be following up in terms of just making sure that this process is concluded in our legislative processes.

“As you all know our president has been leading not only on the issue of access to vaccines, but also to diagnostics and therapeutics. 

“We are committed to a continental, Pan African approach in terms of sharing knowledge, sharing resources and technical note.

While some 30 countries have signed or ratified the treaty on the AMA, most of Africa’s largest countries and economies have not yet done so. The holdouts have included Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa. Egypt and Senegal have, on the other hand, signed and ratified the treaty.   

WHO DG expresses AMA support during tour of Cape Town mRNA hub   

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus visit Cape Town’s new mRNA hub

WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also appealed to African countries to join the AMA during a widely-publicized trip to Cape Town to celebrate scientists’ breakthrough there in replicating mRNA COVID vaccine technology.

“All African countries should support the rapid establishment of the African Medicines Agency,” said the WHO DG at a press briefing after he toured Afrigen Vaccines and Biologic’s R&D facility as well as Biovac, where the first batches of the new vaccine are to be manufacturered to GMP standards.    

Lab technicians at work in Cape Town’s Afrigen Vaccines & Biologics, during a high level tour 11 February by WHO officials. The company says it has replicated Moderna’s mRNA vaccine.

“Common platforms or institutions are important – because there are many shared issues in our continent that has to be addressed through unison. The Africa Medicines Agency is one of them.  

“The experience from the European Medicines Agency is that it helped actually in bringing the whole [European] Union together even in reducing the funding they invest in individual approvals because the approvals cuts close to at the country level approval that’s done.

He added that particularly in a pandemic, “every country cannot fight this cross border so the African Medicines Agency can help fight this also.”

“I believe that this institution will be very, very important for the continent.”

Africa CDC also was resisted initially – now has full-fledged support

Tedros compared the evolution of the AMA to the course taken by Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – an idea he says he initiated during his term as Ethiopia’s foreign minister.

“When I proposed the Africa CDC in 2017 in Abuja, some people laughed at me,” he observed.  “…Now I see continent-wide support to Africa CDC, but it took many years for many people to understand its benefits.

“So I see the same thing with him with AMA, the same resistance and the same doubts and the same concerns.

“I know Africa Medicines Agency will be as beneficial as the Africa CDC. So I would like to use this opportunity actually appeal to all countries who haven’t ratified to ratify, to speed up the establishment,” he said.  

Along with helping to speed up medicines approvals, the AMA can also play a role in stimulating manufacturing in Africa, he added, linking to the focus of his tour Friday of the Cape Town’s new mRNA vaccine hub. “I think we need to identify institutions that can bring us all together… that’s why the continental and global institutions are more important than before.”

See our special covereage of the African Medicines Agency Countdown here:

African Medicines Agency Countdown


Image Credits: @elmimuller, WHO, Rodger Bosch for MPP/WHO.

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