President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Remarks on advancing Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response in Africa, New York, USA, 18 September 2023
Dr Jean Kaseya, Director General, Africa Centres for Disease Prevention and Control
Ministers of Health and Delegates,
Leaders of Specialised AU Organs,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to thank Africa CDC for inviting us to co-host this critical meeting on the margins of the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
In the same way as we responded to COVID-19, Africa’s pandemic prevention, preparedness and response efforts should be defined by unity, solidarity and coherence.
Africa should set its own agenda to fit into the global plans.
Africa is justified in seeking to achieve self-reliance in pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, or PPPR.
Africa experiences over 100 infectious disease outbreaks a year, most of which we manage to contain.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa emerged as a leader in genomic surveillance. On two occasions, we were the first to alert the world to new COVID-19 variants.
The relative success of Africa’s COVID-19 Response Strategy should be studied and documented. We need to understand the effect of factors such as the high degree of cross-border cooperation, local expertise, the relatively young population and the impact of partnerships.
These learnings can form the basis of an informed, proactive strategy.
Together, we built a solid foundation for PPPR by strengthening our public health institutions. We initiated a pharmaceutical manufacturing strategy, established a model for continent-wide pooled procurement and exposed African products to the global market through the Africa Medical Supplies Platform.
We also focused on economic recovery issues. Our special envoys helped raise $ 200 million in Special Drawing Rights for the continent and negotiated that our member states be prioritised for access to those funds.
We have a window of opportunity to maintain political will and investor interest to drive significant investments towards developing regional PPPR capacity. We need to focus on a few critical areas:
Firstly, we need strong, sustainable, digitally empowered primary health care systems and we need community-responsive national public health institutes. Because outbreaks happen at the community level, information must travel faster than the pathogen. Health services must be able to reach vulnerable groups, including those in conflict settings.
Secondly, we need real-time surveillance and good cross-border cooperation.
Thirdly, we need a capable and fit-for-purpose workforce. We need to urgently establish the health workforce task team to operationalise health workforce development. With such a large young population, Africa can be the hub of health workforce production to close the global health workforce shortage.
Fourthly, we need equitable access to medical countermeasures, including vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, through local manufacturing and functional last-mile delivery of goods and services.
Fifthly, we need predictable financing for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.
The Bureau of the Heads of State and Government have agreed to establish the Africa Epidemic Fund. We need to swiftly conclude the necessary statutory processes and replenish the fund.
As the AU COVID-19 Champion, I have tabled a proposal to establish a regional legal instrument as a PPPR cooperative mandate that would be triggered by a declaration of a public health emergency of continental security or international concern.
This legal instrument should outline the actions that member states can collectively take and appropriate modalities for the region’s interaction with the world during the next pandemic.
Pandemic preparedness requires that we achieve our ambitious manufacturing goals.
This needs to be a collaborative effort that brings together the Africa CDC, the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing, AUDA-NEPAD and the AfCFTA Secretariat with other relevant continental and global partners and the private sector.
We need more investment into research and development, building on our diversified clinical trial expertise and drawing from indigenous knowledge systems. We must encourage the co-development of products to secure ownership of intellectual property.
The high-level working group on health manufacturing was established to coordinate and monitor the impact of such partnerships.
The working group will also monitor the progress made by large procurers of health products like GAVI, UNICEF, PEPFAR and the Global Fund.
This follows the Bureau’s call for these procurers to purchase at least 30 percent of the products destined for Africa from African manufacturers.
As we build our regional capacity, we must also position ourselves prominently in the global PPPR negotiations.
We need a unified voice and common positions to advance the interests of our continent and its people.
Africa needs to be well represented in key global fora, like the WHO’s consultative process towards an interim medical countermeasures coordination mechanism, the G20 as part of the AU’s new membership, the G7 MCM Delivery Partnership and the informal Johannesburg process.
South Africa was a co-chair of Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, or ACT-A, and there is much that we can learn from the experience of that initiative.
We concur with the ACT-A External Evaluation findings that it was not a perfect instrument and fell short of attaining equity.
It did not contribute as effectively as it could to the last-mile delivery and strengthening of health systems.
However, ACT-A did establish solid collaborative networks that together raised $ 24 billion in financing, delivered 1,96 billion vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries and procured over $700 million worth of PPE for health workers.
We can build on this collective capacity whilst addressing the mistakes of the past.
The combination of climate change and the increased movement of people has caused an increase in the frequency of outbreaks worldwide.
This means preparation is urgent and will not wait for us to make up our minds at the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body.
It is for this reason that we support the establishment of an interim medical countermeasures coordination mechanism. However, it must correct the mistakes of ACT-A and be founded on a firm principle of accountability and fair governance characterised by a partnership of equals.
We support the WHO consultative process towards establishing this mechanism and that it should align with the determinations of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body.
It is heartening that BRICS and some AU member states, along with AU specialised agencies, partners and the private sector, came together on the margins of the recent BRICS Summit in Johannesburg to discuss a possible collaborative framework between our respective nations.
The BRICS group has enormous health information and biotechnology capacity that can be leveraged for Africa’s manufacturing and PPPR ambitions.
The deliberations and determinations of this meeting are extremely important as they will form the basis of our contribution at the upcoming AU Summit.
I look forward to your ideas and guidance.
I thank you.
Issued by: The Presidency