Africa must expand its medical manufacturing capacity and forge partnerships to boost expertise and investment to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and future health emergencies, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.
The continent has struggled to acquire vaccines to fight COVID-19 and imports the vast majority of its medicines and medical equipment, leaving it at the mercy of overseas supplies.
Africa's mainly poor nations are falling behind in the global vaccination race with under 13 million doses administered so far to the continent's 1.3 billion people, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ramaphosa, the African Union's COVID-19 champion and leader of the African country hardest hit by the virus, said there were lessons to learn from the pandemic.
"In ensuring an effective response to the current pandemic, we must strengthen our ability to both respond to future health emergencies and to achieve health security for the people of our continent," he told continental leaders during a webinar.
Ramaphosa said the medium-term strategy should be to expand existing manufacturing facilities into regional hubs that could serve Africa's health needs.
"We also need to forge sustainable partnerships with entities in both the developed world as well as the developing world," he said.
African countries could seek guidance from countries such as India and Brazil on how they developed their generic pharmaceutical industries, he said, and collaboration between the public and private sectors would be essential.
"The vision of a strong African medical supply and vaccine manufacturing capability that responds effectively to the health needs of the African people is bold and also ambitious, but it is achievable," Ramaphosa said.