OPINION | David Marchick and Todd Haskell: We should invest today to improve health tomorrow

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The US has invested in Aspen to ensure everyone on the continent has access to the Covid-19 vaccine, write the authors.
The US has invested in Aspen to ensure everyone on the continent has access to the Covid-19 vaccine, write the authors.

The capacity shortage of Covid-19 vaccines on the continent threatens to prolong the pandemic and leave Africa open for other health threats, writes David Marchick and Todd Haskell.

One year ago, a world transformed by Covid-19 waited for the arrival of lifesaving vaccines. Today, as we approach the end of the second year of this pandemic, we confront the challenge of producing and distributing the billions of shots required to vaccinate the entire world. The United States is working to address this latest challenge by investing in expanded manufacturing capacity in Africa and across the developing world.

Earlier this year, the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) collaborated with the government of South Africa, the US Mission to South Africa, and other major development agencies to support a €600 million investment enabling Aspen Pharmacare, Africa’s largest pharmaceutical company, to dramatically expand production of vaccines at its Eastern Cape facility in Gqeberha.

The investment in Aspen is one of multiple transactions DFC has supported in Africa and across the world to help mobilise the large amounts of capital required to bolster long-term manufacturing capacity to ensure that every eligible person in the world can get a life-saving vaccine. As the US government’s development finance institution, DFC works to mobilise investment to help solve some of the world’s most urgent challenges. The investment in Aspen and other transactions in Africa and India are expected to collectively result in the production of almost two billion Covid vaccines by the end of 2022.

Half the continent is vaccinated 

As we visited the Aspen Pharmacare manufacturing facility in Gqeberha and other US investments throughout the country, we remained mindful of the disparities that persist. To date, roughly half the nations in Africa have fully vaccinated less than two percent of their populations.

There is another number that captures the magnitude of the challenge going forward. Today, Africa-based companies manufacture a mere one percent of all vaccine doses administered on the continent. Covid has significantly compounded this longstanding problem. Consider that, before the pandemic, global manufacturing capacity for all vaccines – influenza, polio, yellow fever, and others – stood at five billion doses. For Covid-19 alone, global manufacturing demand is estimated at more than 11 billion doses, not counting booster shots.

READ | Analysis: An inconvenient truth: The real reason why Africa is not getting vaccinated

This capacity shortage threatens to not only prolong the pandemic but to leave the continent unprepared for future health crises. The African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recognise this as an urgent crisis and have set a target for African companies to manufacture 60 percent of the continent’s vaccine doses by 2040. It is an ambitious but necessary goal. It is a goal that the United States and South Africa will achieve by working together.

DFC was formed in 2019 to continue and expand the long American tradition of development investment worldwide. DFC investments build critical infrastructure and increase access to vital public services such as electricity and healthcare. When Covid-19 emerged as the greatest development challenge in a generation, DFC quickly pivoted to address the crisis. Since then, the agency has supported many projects to expand access to essential medical equipment, therapeutics, and vaccines. And we see South Africa as a critical partner in these investments.

Broad approach to development finance

DFC provides loans, guarantees, insurance, technical assistance, and other investment tools to help private businesses in emerging economies. We have the means and mandate to invest in projects that will lead the world out of the pandemic. In addition to saving lives in the near term, DFC is also committed to strengthening resilience to future challenges, promoting economic growth, and improving health. 

That is why DFC’s approach to development finance is broad. Even as we invest in projects to ramp up vaccine production, we are also focused on supporting long-term stability and resilience through investments in water and sanitation, food security, electricity, and technology.

This week we also visited another DFC investment in a technology business that will establish the data centres critical to South Africa’s continued economic growth. DFC investments are just one piece in a set of broad and deep programs in the US Mission to South Africa.

When bolstered by our excellent partnership with the South African government and the capabilities of the great people of South Africa, together we can overcome this pandemic and face whatever challenges the future may bring.

David Marchick is Chief Operating Officer of the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the U.S. Government’s development finance institution. Todd Haskell is the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Mission to South Africa.

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