WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at announcement “spokes” of mRNA technology transfer hub

Your Excellency President Macron,
Excellency President Macky Sall,
Excellency President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi,
Excellency President Kenyatta,
Excellency President Buhari,
Excellency President Saied,
Excellency President Michel,
Excellency President von der Leyen,
Excellencies, dear colleagues, and friends,
Good morning, bonjour, it’s an honour to be here with you.

It’s incredible to think that just over two years since COVID-19 began spreading, there are now multiple safe and effective vaccines against it, and more than 10 billion doses have been administered globally.

The tragedy, of course, is that billions of people are yet to benefit from these life-saving tools.

Currently, 116 countries are off track for our shared target of vaccinating 70% of the population of every country by the middle of this year.

More than 80% of the population of Africa is yet to receive a single dose.

Much of this inequity has been driven by the fact that globally, vaccine production is concentrated in a few mostly high-income countries.

One of the most obvious lessons of the pandemic, therefore, is the urgent need to increase local production of vaccines, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

That’s why, in April last year, WHO issued a call for expressions of interest for establishing a technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccines.

The aim of the hub is to provide a facility where manufacturers from low- and lower-middle income countries can receive training in how to produce certain vaccines, and the licenses to do so.

In June last year, we announced our decision to establish the hub in South Africa, as a partnership between WHO, Afrigen Biologics, the Biologicals and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa, or Biovac, the South African Medical Research Council, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Medicines Patent Pool.

As you remember, last year’s visit by President Macron was a milestone in that process.

We very much appreciate the strong support for the hub from Belgium, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany and Norway.

I was honoured to have the opportunity to visit the Hub last week, with Minister Meryame Kitir of Belgium. We also met with President Ramaphosa.

And it’s already producing results, with Afrigen’s announcement that it has produced its own mRNA vaccine, based on publicly-available information about the composition of an existing vaccine.

After visiting the institution and we met with President Ramaphosa, the strong commitment and leadership from His Excellency Ramaphosa and also the strong commitment from all the institutions, the ecosystem for the hub is very, very strong.

We expect clinical trials to start in the fourth quarter of this year, with approval expected in 2024, but this process can be sped up, there are other options that the hub is exploring.

We expect the benefits of this initiative will extend far beyond COVID-19, by creating a platform for vaccines against other diseases including malaria, tuberculosis and even cancer. So this is a strategic investment, not just for COVID, but for all the major health problems that we face.

And the hub will be not just for South Africa, it’s for Africa Africa and the whole world, because the spokes will be distributed all over the world.

Today I’m delighted to announce the first six African countries that will receive technology from the hub to produce their own mRNA vaccines: Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.

WHO will work with the companies and the government in each country to develop a roadmap for training and production, based on their needs and capacities.

We’re very honoured to be joined today by the Presidents of all six countries, as well as President Macron, President Charles Michel and President Ursula von der Leyen.

The leadership and support of the European Union, the European Commission and the European Council have all been essential in bringing us to this point. So I’d like to say thank you so much, merci beaucoup.

Thank you all, and we look forward to working with all of you to make this project a success, for the healthier, safer and fairer Africa we all want. I was saying yesterday, for this project, the only option we have is success. Failure is not an option, and I can see the commitment of all our leaders here.

Thank you.

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