Senegal will become the centre for Africa’s first full-fledged vaccine production factory after the announcement of the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Institut Pasteur de Dakar for a $80 million funding arrangement to react to illnesses across the continent.

The factory, known as Madiba (Manufacturing in Africa for Disease Immunisation and Building Autonomy), will come up in Diamniadio, which is a town in a special economic zone. It is located 37 kilometres from Dakar, the Senegal’s capital. It will be Africa’s first ever mega vaccine manufacturing centre, a requirement that’s become obvious as the region battles to provide vaccination to its people against covid 19 pandemic.

By the time the new factory functions at full production strength, it will be able to manufacture 300 million plus vaccine doses per year for a continent that imports 98% of its vaccines. The factory will double up as a research location for next-generation vaccinations.

The director of the Institut Pasteur de Dakar, Dr. Amadou Sall says the present manufacturing of vaccine is very much centralized in some regions across the world. Therefore, it is vital to build decentralised vaccine production solutions to tackle this imbalance. This could also generate employment  for an increasing number of young Africans. EIB vice president Ambroise Fayolle said the new facility will “contribute to increased autonomy in the manufacturing and delivery of important vaccinations.”

Africa’s dependency on vaccine imports Covid-19 is one example of Africa’s vaccine restrictions. In January and February, covid vaccine uptake across the continent jumped by 15%, but as of March, 15 nations still hadn’t completely immunized 10% of their population, and nations had only immunized between 10% and 19% of their people, according to the WHO. Only the African island republics of Mauritius and Seychelles have reached 70% immunization coverage.

“No one is secure until everyone is safe,” stated Irène Mingasson, director of the EU Delegation to Senegal. “We must work together to provide fair access to immunizations across the globe.”

Most African nations acquire their vaccination supply from UNICEF via Gavi, but only a handful can sustainably buy vaccines.

Africa’s largest vaccine maker, South Africa’s Aspen, has manufactured 180 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine but will stop manufacturing. There are further production units in Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Tunisia, although they have little manufacturing capacity and solely handle labeling and packing.

There are additional signals of manufacturing improvement. The African Continental Free Trade Area, African Pharmaceutical Agency, and the Framework Agreement are all engaging in technology-transfer collaborations with Biovac in South Africa, Institute Pasteur in Morocco, the government of Ghana, and Innovative Biotech in Nigeria. In March, US-based Moderna, one of the pioneers of covid’s mRNA vaccines, inked a memorandum of understanding with the Kenyan government to create the first mRNA production plant in Africa.

Increasing vaccine production capacity is just half the challenge, says University of Pretoria professor David Walwyn, who teaches technology management. To produce a vaccination, you need intellectual property and know-how, Walwyn writes in the International Patent Organization journal. “The operation will need a regulatory framework for medication approval and a quality control system that can validate each manufacturing batch.”

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