/ 18 December 2021

WHO director-general gives African public health conference thumbs up

Clear mandate: Tedros Ghebreyesus
Clear mandate: Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus

The director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, has commended the Africa Centre for Disease Control as well as the African Union for organising the continent’s first ever public health conference.

Attended by more than 10 000 participants, the three-day virtual conference brought together leading global scientists, innovators, policy makers, research and public health experts to focus on the continent’s response to public health crises, as well as progress made and the latest innovations.

Ghebreyesus said the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted the importance of nurturing strong science and research in Africa.

“I commend the AU for its bold leadership during the pandemic, through the continental Covid-19 strategy developed under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa — the only unified regional strategy of its kind,” he said.

Up to 44% of the global population has been vaccinated so far, but only 8% of those were from the African continent. Ghebreyesus expressed concern that about 48 AU member states were behind on targets to vaccinate at least 40% of their population by the end of this year.

However, he was pleased that Covax — a worldwide initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines — and the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust were now picking up speed as supply increased.

“In the past 10 weeks, Covax has shipped more vaccines than in the first nine months of the year combined,” said Ghebreyesus.

“Most countries are using vaccines as fast as they get them. A small group of countries are facing challenges rolling out vaccines and scaling up rapidly, and WHO and our partners are working closely with those countries to overcome bottlenecks.”

Ghebreyesus was also pleased with the progress made in manufacturing vaccines on the continent.

“Several African countries — including Egypt, Morocco, Rwanda and Senegal — have all signed agreements or memorandums of understanding for Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing in their countries, and Algeria has begun production,” he said.

Ghebreyesus said the world health body was committed to supporting the Africa Medicines Agency with technical and financial support and would also throw its weight behind the mRNA technology transfer hub in South Africa, which is expected  to boost vaccine production on the continent.

“Investing in local production in Africa is essential for strengthening regional health security, but also for our continent’s journey towards universal health coverage,” he added.