By Beatrice Batamuliza

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has called for sustainable solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic saying the world is not certain when the epidemic would come to an end.

Speaking at a virtual meeting on the African Union on Domestic Health financing in partnership with the government of the United States of America recently, President Kagame appreciated the US efforts to assist Africa in the fight against COVID-19 but said better alternatives could be sought.

“The United States of America has invested a lot of energy in providing vaccines but it’s not a sustainable solution to the current global health problem neither can it address the inequalities faced,” the president noted.

President Kagame who leads the African Union Institutional Reforms also serves as African Union Champion for Domestic Health Financing currently serving a one-year term as African Union Development Agency-NEPAD (AUDANEPAD) Heads of state and government orientation committee.

He urged donor countries to consider concrete solutions to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic; “We need to change mindset and way of doing things and look for better solutions since the world cannot tell when COVID-19 will end,” Kagame said.

He cited the need for the United States government and other donor countries to consider funding local manufacturing of vaccines and other pharmaceuticals than donating them. He said with local manufacturing of vaccines and other pharmaceuticals other opportunities would come.

The President said, “through USAID, the US-Africa partnership has been important in strengthening innovations a most recent being a small technology company, Zipline from California which started a pilot project in Rwanda on how to deliver blood and other medical supplies to rural areas using drones that has expanded not only in other African countries and Japan but also in the USA itself. And with its expansion, Rwandan youths had the opportunity to be its pioneer technicians and engineers”. He encouraged the youths to be focused and through innovation tap opportunities for solutions where others see only problems.

COVID-19 vaccine rolls out across Africa has faced challenges of delays, scarcity and uncertainty.  Some countries are facing hikes in death cases and overwhelmed health systems as they wait for the shipment of doses.  The rest of the world face shortages in the vaccine due to rigid intellectual property rights and export restrictions.

In response to health and economic experts across the continent to increase local capacity to manufacture vaccines, the African Union launched the partnership for African Vaccine manufacturing.

“There has to be some rethinking of what ourselves do in Africa, our governments need to step forward and take the initiative,” said Donald Kaberuka African Union special envoy on COVID-19

The goals of the partnership include coordinated agenda on vaccine manufacturing for the continent; bolstering of five regional production sites over the next 10-15 years, mobilizing of financial partnerships, strengthening of regional regulatory systems, increase in technology transfer to manufacturers on the continent and the development of African universities as premier vaccine research and development hubs.

As part of the framework, the AU signed an agreement with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to strengthen pandemic and outbreak preparedness in Africa; increase investment in vaccine research and development, invest in capacity building and training, strengthen regional laboratories and research hubs.

In addition, the African Export-Import Bank signed an agreement with the Africa Finance Corporation to identify and engage partners on vaccine manufacturing, co-finance transactions and projects, provide preparatory support to project developers as well as policy support to ease barriers to vaccine manufacturing.

The African centre for disease control and prevention also held a virtual meeting to lay the groundwork for establishing a sustainable vaccine manufacturing ecosystem on the continent.

Currently, the continent imports 99% of its vaccines, Africa Center for Disease control hopes that by 2040 it will be able to produce 60% of its vaccines locally.

Rwanda, South Africa and Senegal were the three African countries identified as potential sites to start exploring building up capacity to manufacture messenger RNA vaccines, the new technology used in developing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Rwanda has taken a positive move towards vaccinating the citizens, according to statistics from the ministry of health, about 80% of those considered at risk of COVID-19 infection residents of Kigali have by mid-August received full vaccination while those who missed out are being found in their homes.

The Rwanda Biomedical Centre’s director General Dr. Sabin Nsanzima says over 50% of Kigali residents have received the COVID-19 vaccine which has slowed down the deaths due to the pandemic compared to what was reported in June and July. 

According to Dr. Nsanzimana the vaccination process is showing great improvement, “June and July Kigali city recorded a rise in COVID-19 deaths especially among the elderly and those with other health complications but with massive vaccination, we have seen numbers dropping where in some days no single death is reported in Kigali” Dr. Nsanzimana noted.

He said the country has purchased more vaccines where every week over 200 doses are received. So far about 900,000 people have received the vaccine.

By August 15, COVID-19 prevalence stands at 4.1% compared to 9.5% in late July when Kigali city and other five neighbouring districts were put into a third COVID-19 lockdown.

Other efforts in the fight against COVID-19 include the use of Anti epidemic robots which was launched early last year. The high-tech robots which were bought by the Ministry of ICT in partnership with UNDP have the capacity to screen between 50-150 persons per minute.