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Image courtesy of EuroActiv, Peter Burdin - ‘Africa takes vaccination into its own hands’,

Self-sufficiency. A key phrase at the centre of South African healthcare discourse. It is a hot topic that branches out across the continent but finds itself firmly placed in South Africa. “According to Dr Iain Barton, Founding Principal of Health 4 Development, “local manufacturing is the number one item on today’s African Union heads of state meeting agenda.” For Dr Barton, the COVID response began this conversation, before going on to highlight what ought to be the long-term aims, “before the pandemic, starting the conversation on local manufacturing was impossible. People and leaders need to now realize its strategic priority.” “The most important thing to note is that this is a long-term investment. It is a 10-to-15-year investment cycle. The main aim should be to manufacture essential commodities and basic medicines that cover the continent's needs. We need to focus on fixing the key elements.”

For South Africa, examples such as vaccine development during the pandemic have contributed toward a level of preparedness that has resulted from the COVID experience, but there are pre-pandemic demonstrations, too. An example is that of the vaccine technology transfer between Pfizer and the Biovac Institute beginning in 2015, allowing for local manufacturing of Pfizer vaccines. This partnership carried through into the pandemic response, allowing Pfizer to distribute their COVID-19 vaccine in the country. More recently, it was announced that South Africa’s Afrigen, a biotechnology company, will be collaborating with researchers from the U.S. government in further developing mRNA vaccines. With health challenges such as the growing concern around Monkey Pox, as declared a health emergency by the World Health Organization, such efforts display the level of preparedness in the nation.

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There are other clear demonstrations of South Africa’s healthcare contribution to the world, resulting in its capability of greater self-sufficiency. Such instances include the clinical trials for HIV/AIDS treatments that were conducted in Africa, by Africans, widening the level of access and care across the world. Combined with these factors is the potential for growth and development, as highlighted by Kingsley Tloubatla, Executive Chairman of Bliss Holdings Group, “local pharmaceutical production would create more than 16 million jobs.” Tloubatla goes on to state that “the responsibility is on local companies such as ourselves to not only seek partnerships and come up with solutions for our continent, but these solutions need to be grounded in resolving and creating long-term economic sustainability for the continent.”

With challenges come opportunities, a scenario that South Africa holds a weight of experience in, and the strategic strength that sprouts from local capacity and manufacturing will continue to develop as long as there are health concerns to be addressed. For that, South Africa is ready.