Africa faces challenges in accessing vaccines, and Uganda is no exception. Currently, Africa relies on the generosity of wealthier countries for vaccines, with limited influence over access. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this issue, as richer nations secured vaccines for their populations before donating surplus doses to less fortunate countries, primarily in Africa.
According to the World Health Organization, during the pandemic, higher-income countries preordered six billion vaccine doses, yet less than 1 percent of these vaccines reached developing nations like Uganda. This situation exposed Africa’s vulnerability in the global medical supply system.
To address this, organizations like the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI) Uganda and Afya na Haki are working on the “Advancing Regional Vaccine Manufacturing and Access in Africa (ARMA)” project. This initiative involves several African countries, including Uganda, aiming to enhance vaccine production on the continent.
While Uganda has made progress in animal vaccine development, it has been slower to focus on human vaccines. Dr. Monica Musenero, the Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, attributes this delay to a lack of perceived necessity and confidence. However, with government funding and support, Uganda aims to begin producing COVID-19 vaccines in 2024.
Plans include constructing a vaccine production plant in Matuga and utilizing an animal vaccine manufacturing line for human vaccines, pending approval from the World Health Organization. Uganda also aims to become a regional vaccine hub, focusing on early childhood vaccines like polio, tetanus, and measles.
Pharmaceutical companies, often referred to as “Big Pharma,” have controlled drug access and pricing, leading to limited availability in developing nations. Some companies, including Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and Sinovac, reported extraordinary profits while restricting access to COVID-19 vaccines.
To address vaccine inequality, some developing countries have called for waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines. However, international trade and investment agreements often favor multinational pharmaceutical companies, making it challenging for local manufacturers to compete.
While the African Union aims for 60 percent local vaccine manufacturing capacity by 2040, the continent currently produces only about 1 percent of the vaccines administered in Africa. Africa faces a long journey to catch up with leading vaccine-producing regions in the Americas, West Pacific, and Europe, which produce 34 percent, 28 percent, and 20 percent of the world’s vaccines, respectively.
Uganda, like many African countries, grapples with a heavy disease burden while receiving minimal scientific attention. The continent’s lack of pandemic preparedness highlights the need for local vaccine production.
In recent years, several African countries, including Uganda, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, and Rwanda, have taken steps toward manufacturing vaccines on the continent. These efforts align with the New Public Health Order for Africa, focusing on expanding vaccine, diagnostic, and therapeutic manufacturing.
Unlocking Africa’s vaccine production potential will require a review of trade and investment policies, according to Ms. Jane Nalunga, the executive director of SEATINI Uganda. She emphasizes the importance of regional collaboration, technology transfer, and intellectual property flexibility to promote local vaccine manufacturing. Additionally, policymakers should incentivize vaccine production through updated investment, trade, and industrial policies at national, regional, and continental levels.