African Countries Were Denied Access to Having Their Own Vaccine by Western CountriesPolicies from the colonial period and global health gatekeepers have made it almost impossible for African doctors and scientists to get their vaccines into clinical trials.
The Harvard-trained geneticist with international acclaim, Happi was the first to sequence coronavirus samples in Sub-Saharan Africa, before later identifying the arrival of the so-called "South African variant" in Nigeria. He played a key role in containing an Ebola outbreak in Nigeria in 2014.
Happi told Newsmen,
â€œWeâ€™ve submitted proposals and we still donâ€™t have a response,â€â€œIf we were able to produce a vaccine on the continent, the issue of access would have been far less overwhelming, but African countries donâ€™t want to invest and who else is going to come in and invest?â€
Scientists agreed that if a vaccine had been developed on the continent, the severe access problems that African countries are facing could have been avoided.
â€œI know donors have committed money to vaccines further along, but it doesnâ€™t make sense to ignore [ACEGIDâ€™s vaccine] because it denies Africa the opportunity to set up the infrastructure for future vaccine development on other diseases,â€ Happi said.
The lack of government support for medical research and development is a recurring issue for scientists on the continent, with research spending remaining about 0.5 percent of GDP, well below the global average of 2.2 percent.
â€œAny place that isnâ€™t able to produce its own medications and supplies is relegated to always carrying a begging bowl, but to understand the healthcare systems and funding models in African nations you have to examine the role of development institutions like the IMF and World Bank,â€ Noko said in a Zoom interview.
â€œSAPs eviscerated safety nets and public health infrastructures across the Global South,â€ Richardson said via email.
â€œThey privatised public assets, cut spending on healthcare, food and farm subsidies, and deregulated trade rules, such that illicit financial flows to the Global North currently dwarf what is sent to the Global South in â€˜aid.â€™â€
â€œThe [IMF and World Bank] have abetted this continued postcolonial extraction of wealth, leaving countries that are rich in natural resources bereft and impoverished, which leads to situations where countries become dependent on foreign actors for services like healthcare.â€
For more than a century, the global health system has been dominated by organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in wealthy Western countries, which set the global research agenda, make investment decisions, and act as gatekeepers to life-saving medicines and technology.
â€œWe are stuck in a system we canâ€™t get out of which has Western roots, where we have no control over power and resources,â€ Kyobutungi said. â€œItâ€™s the same system the entire world operates on, so how do you extricate yourself from that?â€.
Professor Dicky Akanmori, WHOâ€™s Regional Adviser for Vaccine Research and Regulation, agreed.
â€œWeâ€™re attached to the same old funding mechanisms, whereby grants come into Africa from international agencies or foreign governments like the EU or Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,â€ Akanmori said. â€œFunding from within is still woefully inadequate, and if you donâ€™t bring the money, you donâ€™t set the agenda, so our research is driven by the Global North.â€
â€œItâ€™s designed to create a benefactor and a beneficiary, so that one party always has the ability to manufacture and produce medications and diagnostics, and the other doesnâ€™t,â€ Noko said.
â€œYou can almost call it a patronage system. Itâ€™s the ability to decide who gets what, when.â€
â€œGlobal health is still practiced in colonial ways, particularly through resource allocation. A student at Harvard or Johns Hopkins will have better access to research funding than an expert in Cameroon ever will. So itâ€™s a self-perpetuating system where, because research capacity isnâ€™t built on the continent, the expertise here isnâ€™t acknowledged. Weâ€™re still not seen as partners, instead itâ€™s quite exploitative,â€ Jumbam said.
â€œWe need to get our governments to see value in investing in African resources,â€ Kyobutungi said.
â€œThe missing link here is sustained engagement between the research community and those who hold the purse strings.â€
â€œPeople in this movement say those in the Global North â€˜need to be willing to give up power,â€™â€ Jumbam said.
â€œPeople donâ€™t just give up power, it goes back to the African independence movements in the 50s and 60s, the British and French didnâ€™t just â€˜give up powerâ€™, we had to demand it. Itâ€™s similar for the global health movement, we need leaders and intellectuals to rise up.â€
â€œIf governments really commit to this, theyâ€™ll be putting a very important brick in the wall to prevent and deal with the next pandemic,â€ Patrick Tippoo, a founding member of the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative (AVMI), told newsmen.
GAVI developed a business model for selling vaccines in Africa after arriving in the early 2000s, collaborating with foreign donors and pharmaceutical companies to purchase vaccines at cheaper rates, ensure a demand for purchases, secure supply, and address issues of consistency, cost, and fairness.
â€œGAVI has done a great job, but it has also hampered development in recipient countries,â€ Professor Oyewale Tomori, an eminent Nigerian virologist and former GAVI board member told Newsmen.
â€œThe last question I asked at a GAVI meeting was â€˜Is GAVI forever?â€™ And my reason for asking was that so many African governments - even when their economies are developed enough - revert to GAVI-assistance instead of taking care of their own people.â€
This sentiment is shared by Tippoo.
â€œThere's no debate over the remarkable role GAVI has played, but it hasnâ€™t helped to encourage the kind of competition that would drive research and development on the continent. The evolving landscape requires introspection.... and now is the time for GAVI to reflect on a broader contribution it can make to incentivise and free up the markets in Africa," he explained.
â€œWe have Africans that can develop vaccines,â€ he said.
â€œWeâ€™ve proven that we have Africans that can develop therapies and diagnostics. Weâ€™ve proven that, so if our governments were supporting those initiatives, we wouldnâ€™t have to wait for the global community to come in and make decisions for us.â€