EU praises vaccine cooperation with Africa at summit

Brussels, Feb 17 (AP) European Union leaders on Thursday lauded the bloc’s vaccine cooperation with Africa in the fight against the coronavirus, but there was no sign they would move toward a temporary lifting of intellectual property rights protection for COVID-19 shots.

Speaking on the first day of an EU-Africa summit in Brussels, the head of the European Commission said the EU will continue to focus in the short term on the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.

Ursula von der Leyen said the 27-nation region will also invest in the long run to help the continent produce shots locally. She said “two state-of-the-art factories” in Rwanda and Senegal are expected to be built this year.

“It is about the capacity of Africa to produce their own vaccines, to develop mRNA manufacturing capacity across Africa,” von der Leyen said. “We are making rapid progress.”

Von der Leyen said that the EU is supporting the WHO initiative to set up a technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccine production in South Africa.

“We are confident this hub will empower African scientists and companies,” she said. “This is not only about production of COVID-19 vaccines. The mRNA technology can also be used for vaccines against other widespread diseases in Africa, like malaria and tuberculosis.”

Despite calls from India and South Africa supported by the African Union for a temporary intellectual property waiver that would allow more manufacturers to produce the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines, the EU still believes this is not the right solution.

The bloc favors voluntary agreement with companies that allow transfer of technologies and know-how to produce safe vaccines.

Speaking in Brussels, South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa said his demand for lifting vaccine patents was still on the table, adding that “it takes a conversation”.

Speaking at the summit, French president Emmanuel Macron said Africa currently produces just 1% of the current vaccines while requiring 20% ​​of all shots.

The EU is the largest exporter of COVID-19 vaccines and said it has shared almost 145 million doses with Africa, with a goal of reaching at least 450 million shots by the summer. But some NGO’s have criticized the EU for prioritising profits by selling doses to rich countries while exporting only a small fraction of shots to Africa.

According to WHO figures, only 11% of the population in Africa is fully vaccinated, compared to the global average of about 50%. (AP) SCY SCY

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