President Kagame reflects on lessons learnt from COVID-19 pandemic at global vaccine forum

By Esther Muhozi
On 20 June 2024 at 06:28

President Paul Kagame was among the high-ranking leaders who graced the Global Forum for Vaccine Sovereignty and Innovation in France on Thursday, June 20, 2024.

In his address, President Kagame reflected on the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed millions of lives and exposed a new dimension of inequality between developed and developing nations. He noted that while no country was spared from the virus, the timely access to vaccines and therapeutics was deeply uneven and unfair.

"The virus did not leave any country unaffected, but timely access to vaccines and therapeutics was deeply uneven and unfair," he remarked at the event attended by French President Emmanuel Macron and Prof. José Manuel Barroso, the chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

During the height of the crisis, Africa and its partners vowed to collaborate in building vaccine research and manufacturing capacities for the long term. Despite the temptation to return to business as usual once the pandemic subsided, Kagame emphasized the importance of honouring this commitment.

"In the urgency of the moment, Africa and its partners vowed to work together to build vaccine research and manufacturing capacities for the long term. Once the pandemic passed, it would have been easy to forget this commitment and go back to business as usual," he stated.

He commended France, the African Union, and Gavi for organizing this important meeting and the actions stemming from it, including the launch of the African Vaccine Manufacturing Accelerator. This initiative aims to ensure a secure future for vaccine production in Africa.

President Kagame highlighted the inauguration of the first end-to-end mRNA production facility on the continent in Rwanda last December, a process initiated in 2021 by the African Union with Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa. The centre is led by experts from across Africa, showcasing impressive continental collaboration, with the current head being from Nigeria.

"The process which led to this result was initiated in 2021 by the African Union with Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa as initial focal points. The experts leading that centre now come from across Africa. In fact, the expert leading that centre now is from Nigeria, bringing Africa together in a very impressive way," he noted.

President Kagame also mentioned the recent announcement by CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) of $45 million in funding to support commercial-scale manufacturing at the biotech factory and develop robust pandemic preparedness capabilities, including research and development banks, the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation (ATF), the African headquarters of the International Vaccine Institute, and the African Medicines Agency.

"These efforts show what is possible with strong partnerships involving governments, scientists, and innovative companies," he said.

He expressed his gratitude to the World Health Organization and the European Union, including France, for their support on this journey. Kagame stressed that the primary purpose of these collaborations is not merely to produce the vaccines currently in use in Africa, but to significantly improve access and health outcomes.

"The main purpose of these collaborations is not primarily to produce the vaccines that are currently in use in Africa. That is beneficial but does not really move the needle in terms of access and health outcomes," he emphasized.

He highlighted the need to continue building Africa’s health institutions, such as the Africa CDC and the African Medicines Agency, and underscored the responsibility of African nations to increase contributions from domestic resources to fund public health initiatives.

"We must also continue building our continent’s health institutions, Africa CDC and Africa Medicines Agency, and that includes a responsibility for all of us in Africa to increase contributions from our domestic resources to fund public health as a continent," he stated.

President Kagame concluded by reflecting on the lessons learned from recent global shocks, emphasizing the importance of taking ownership of Africa’s future and health.

"Recent global shocks have taught us many lessons. Perhaps the most important is to take ownership of our future and our health," he remarked.

The Head of State reiterated the shared commitment advanced by the forum and thanked the audience for their kind attention. "That is a shared commitment which is advanced by today’s gathering. I thank you for your kind attention," he concluded.