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Minister Musenero, Civil Society Condemn Trade Barriers Against African Vaccine Industry :: Uganda Radionetwork

Minister Musenero, Civil Society Condemn Trade Barriers Against African Vaccine Industry

China's COVID-19 vaccine has never been accredited by the WHO, why does Africa expect an easier road to production and supply? - Musenero
Minister Musenero wants African countries to collaborate on vaccine development

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The Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation Monica Musenero has urged African countries to drop trade  competition and collaborate if they are to have a sustainable vaccine industry.

Musenero noted that several countries have, since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2019, intensified efforts to have their own vaccine industries, following the frustration by the developed world for African states to access the much-needed drugs.

She, however, says that the global production value chain restrictions influenced by the western countries and multinationals, are the main reason why no COVID vaccine has been produced in Africa, three years later.

Musenero says that even South Africa was ready to do a "finish and fill" was frustrated when the western countries reacted buy donating COVID vaccines to the rest of the developing countries, making correct the minister's prediction.

She called on Africa to have its own way of doing things, saying it will be hard to be allowed to have its own vaccine industry, the way China's COVID 19 vaccine has never been accredited by the WHO.

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"Finish and fill" is the process of filling vials with vaccine, biological and pharmaceutical drug substances and finishing the process of packaging the medicine for distribution, with the contract or licence of the manufacturer. 

Musenero says that even today, African countries that claim to be nearing production of the vaccine are not actually talking about manufacturing, but finish and fill.

According to her, this is not a sustainable vaccine industry because it is still owned by someone else who can decide to stop it anytime, though it can help in building the capacity and technology transfer for a fully-fledged manufacturing industry.

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Speaking at a "high-level Policy Symposium on Trade-related Policies and Vaccine Manufacturing and Access in Africa, Musenero explained that the vaccine manufacturing process is very long and expensive, which makes it prudent for countries to collaborate, share facilities and cut costs.

The minister, who is also in charge of Uganda's pathogenic industry including development of vaccines, says the UN system has not helped the plight of the developing world and its need to develop its pharmaceutical industries, by endorsing a complex approval process. According to her, competition, instead of collaboration amongst African countries will only lead to frustration. 

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The two-day symposium was organised by the regional trade rights NGO, SEATINI to find ways of enabling African countries to develop and produce vaccines, in response to lessions learned from the Covid-19 pandemic. It was also organised with the aim to call on the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to waive the TRIPS (Trade Relates Aspects of intellectual property Rights) which have been used to fail the vaccine manufacturing industry in the developing world.

Jane Nalunga, SEATINI Uganda Executive Director, says when the developed countries frustrated efforts by African countries to secure vaccines, it was clear that the continent and other developing regions had to stop relying on the west during global emergencies.

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However, Nalunga is also aware that it is hard for Africa to produce at least 60 percent of her vaccine requirements by 2040 as envisaged in the African Union long-term strategy. She calls on the countries to combine efforts, both for financial capacity and for demanding for the continental right to have its own industry.

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Uganda is in the final stages of producing the Covid-19 vaccine, which the minister says is vital for the development of other vaccines even if the coronavirus infections and severity have reduced. Each aspect of a vaccine manufacturing process must be patented, hence one vaccine can have hundreds of patents before it is put on the market.

Minister Musenero revealed that Uganda has acquired many of the patents required for the COVID vaccine. Sangeeta Shashikant, the Legal and Policy Advisor at Third World Network, says the main bottleneck to developing, producing and supplying a vaccine is the TRIPS agreement.

The Agreement set minimum standards on intellectual property protection across different categories of IP for example patents, trade secret and copyright that World Trade Organization (WTO) Members have to follow, except for least developed countries.

She says TRIPS was proposed to increase innovation, foreign direct investment, technology transfer, and better prospects of economic growth but this has not been delivered for developing countries. Intellectual Property Rights give the rights' holder monopoly and erects entry barriers, preventing generic or non-originator competition, diversified production and thus timely affordable access.

Shashikant says she recommended optimal implementation of TRIPS flexibilities such as exemption of LDCs from TRIPS, reducing the grant of frivolous pharmaceutical patents through rigorous substantive examination and crafting broad exceptions and limitations. There is a need to improve drug regulatory systems to avoid trade secret-related entry barriers especially important to facilitate the manufacturing of generic biologies also known as "biosimilar".

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On the trade policies, Wilbur Namayo, Senior Commercial Officer at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, said Uganda has an adequate legal regime for the development of a vaccine industry.

He, however, says on the wider continents, the regional economic blocs have regulations that may affect the progress, especially the prohibitive common external tariffs that limit trade.

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