The aim is to avoid a repeat of recent events in which some of the most developed countries claimed more than their fair share of Covid-19 vaccines, at the expense of poorer countries, which were forced to take a back seat.
This is one of the main reasons driving the World Bank Group – which has already mobilised $12bn specifically for vaccines – and, in particular, its private-sector arm. The IFC announced that it has raised some €600m ($711m) to support South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare, the continent’s largest pharmaceutical company. It has teamed up with France’s Proparco, the German development bank DEG and the US’s International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).
As lead manager of the operation, the IFC has committed €200m in equity. Proparco, the private-sector arm of the Agence Française de Développement, is providing €156m. The German development institution DEG will be contributing €144m. And lastly, the DFC, the US development institution, is providing €100m.
A vaccine “made in Africa”
“Through this consortium, we are allocating resources for Aspen in the quickest way possible, so that they can reinvest in local production lines,” says Diop, director-general of the IFC. In concrete terms, the €600m will be used to refinance the debt that the South African drug manufacturer has accumulated in recent months, which is linked to the investments that it made in its quest to fight Covid-19.
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Aspen, which is led by South African entrepreneur Stephen Saad, has partnered with US laboratory Johnson & Johnson to prepare, finish, fill and package Janssen’s Covid-19 vaccine (a Johnson & Johnson company) at its new sterile injectables facility in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth). As of 30 June 2020, its annual revenues were R33.7bn ($2.4bn), down 5.2% year-on-year, with a profit of R4.7bn (-28%).
Today, the South African group claims that it will produce 600m doses by the end of 2022. “And thanks to the agreements concluded between Johnson & Johnson and the African Union (AU), the company will be able to prioritise the African market,” says Diop.
While this is a significant investment, the largest that the IFC has made in the health sector, it will not be enough – on its own – to ensure Africa’s self-sufficiency in vaccines. But it will help boost its production capacity. As the new IFC director-general points out, “Africa only manufactures about 1% of the vaccines it uses. And yet, immunisation will have a major impact on economic recovery.”
This past April, the AU and Africa CDC set a goal that Africa will be manufacturing 60% of its own “routine immunisation” needs by 2040.
Supporting governments too
This is why the international institution – in coordination with the World Bank, its parent organisation – continues to support countries in acquiring vaccines abroad.
At the same time, the IFC is working in partnership with the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, which is already producing a yellow fever vaccine on a massive scale, on an initiative to finance and increase its production capacity.
While in Rwanda, which Diop visited while France’s President Emmanuel Macron was making an official visit to the country on 27 May, the IFC is looking into active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). These components are needed to make new medicines.
Finally, during his most recent trip to Morocco, the IFC’s boss also met with the local pharmaceutical industry’s key players, who are interested in getting involved in vaccine production.
Negotiations in Senegal and Rwanda have advanced considerably and, “when the time comes”, the IFC will meet again with its partners to flesh out its action plan.
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