ZAMBIA—The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), through its Director General Dr. Jean Kaseya, has asked AU members to step up efforts to ensure that Africa can produce its own vaccines, thereby promoting the region’s progress toward self-sufficiency.

Dr. Kaseya made these remarks on November 27 at the opening ceremony of the Conference for Public Health in Africa 2023 (CPHIA) in Lusaka, Zambia.

Notable attendees included Gavi’s interim CEO, David Marlow, Dr. John-Arne Rttingen, Norway’s Ambassador for Global Health, and Wellcome Trust CEO designate, along with Hon Sylvia Masebo, Zambia’s Minister of Health.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization; Prof. Margaret Gyapong, Director of the Institute of Health Research at the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) and Co-Chair of the CPHIA 2023; and Dr. Jean Kaseya were among the distinguished participants.

The event also attracted over 5,000 in-person delegates and 20,000 virtual participants.

Dr. Kaseya emphasized that CPHIA23 is the largest global public health event outside of the yearly World Health Assembly.

Reflecting on Africa’s historical struggle for sovereignty, he highlighted the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed Africa’s vulnerability due to a lack of access to vaccines despite gaining independence.

This led African heads of state to commit to manufacturing 60% of the continent’s required vaccines by 2040, responding to the challenges faced during the pandemic’s peak.

Despite the daunting task of currently producing only 1% of its vaccines, Kaseya expressed confidence in achieving this goal.

He credited the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) for championing this vision, receiving substantial support from Gavi.

Gavi’s policy committee approved a $1 billion investment in collaboration with Africa CDC to assist the growth of African vaccine makers, a decision to be discussed by the body’s board in December.

Additionally, the Mastercard Foundation is also assisting the Africa CDC and African countries in increasing their capacity to vaccinate their populations.

Dr. John-Arne Røttingen echoed Dr. Kaseya’s sentiments, emphasizing that increasing manufacturing alone isn’t enough; Africa needs to establish a comprehensive biomedical system.

In his inaugural plenary address, Røttingen stressed the importance of “decolonization,” calling for African health research systems led by Africans.

Meanwhile, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyusus underscored the need for Africa to remain united.

This unity ensures that Africa CDC has a global diplomacy department to facilitate dialogue, support, and access to commodities when needed.

Minister Sylvia Masebo highlighted the significance of adopting the Africa CDC strategic plan 2023–2027, outlining a roadmap for addressing health concerns and ensuring a coordinated response to future risks.

On her part, CPHIA co-chair Professor Margaret Gyapong acknowledged the continent’s scientific advancements, particularly in digital disease tracking and public-private partnerships.

She highlighted the success of the RTS,S malaria vaccine and the significant contribution of African scientists in addressing regional disease burdens.

Pilot immunization programs launched in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi in 2019 indicated that the RTS,S vaccine is safe and effective,.

The implemetation of this programs has led to  leading to a significant reduction in malaria hospitalizations and child deaths.

RTS, S/ASO1e is the first human parasite vaccine approved for use, and it offers a major new tool in the fight against malaria.

Despite the positive outlook, challenges such as limited electricity in health facilities, maternal deaths, and a shortage of skilled healthcare workers were acknowledged.

Moreover, the impact of COVID-19 on the weak economies of African member states, coupled with a lack of financial resources for health system investments, were recognized as pressing issues

Despite these challenges, the conference provided a platform for collaboration and discussions aimed at overcoming obstacles and advancing public health in Africa.