As the world scrambles to find a cure for the novel Coronavirus, once developed, the vaccine should be equally distributed to all countries in need and not just the wealthy, says President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The President made the impassioned plea while virtually delivering his opening remarks at the World Health Organisation’s first high- level meeting of the Facilitation Council of the “Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator” (ACT-A) on Thursday.

President Ramaphosa, who is also the chairperson of the African Union (AU), is co-chairing the meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Ema Solberg.

The meeting will formally launch the ACT-A Facilitation Council, which is an international collaboration among a diverse representation of global leaders and partners to accelerate the development, production and equitable deployment of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics for COVID-19. While 908 000 people across the world have died from COVID-19 related illnesses, 28 million people have contracted the virus. Just over 20.1 million recoveries have been recorded.

While the pandemic has led to economic hardship and insecurity throughout the world, President Ramaphosa said world governments needed to hasten the process of finding tools to combat the virus.

ACT-A, said the President, is “a ground-breaking and innovating mechanism, a product of an unprecedented and ongoing collaboration”.

“I’m sure that we will all agree that faced with such a pandemic, it is essential that humanity has a sense that if and when a vaccine is developed, all countries, including those in my continent, should benefit and not be left behind,” he said.

Humanity, he said, requires that a vaccine should be regarded a public good to benefit all.

President Ramaphosa said: “We cannot achieve universal health coverage when the vaccine is available to only countries that are wealthy and well-resourced in terms of research, manufacturing, distribution and service. As long as someone is infected by the virus, no matter how remote they may be, we are all at risk from the resurgence”.

Moving swiftly in this regard would ensure that everyone has access to the vaccine once it is developed at the same time.

“Countries must together, acting in solidarity, support current global initiatives to develop vaccines,” he said.

President Ramaphosa said the initiative was important to achieving this goal.

“We should use all available infrastructure to conduct research to find safe vaccines. The efforts by the WHO to enable collaboration among scientists to conduct clinical trials is welcome.”

Support for these global efforts are critical, as they are likely to increase the availability of vaccines that are appropriate to specific locations and populations.

“We must also incentivise vaccine development, especially for pharmaceutical companies. They may be concerned that if they embark on this every expensive process, it may not be profitable,” the President said.

While some countries already do this, the President said governments may have to subsidise the development of vaccines as an incentive to ensure fast and adequate production.

“As a global community, we must encourage people to participate in safe clinical trials of vaccines. The act is vital to achieve these goals. It offers us tools at the speed and scale that are needed and but also an equitable mechanism to distribute them.

“Now that it is a proven functioning mechanism, we must waste no time in rallying support with the political and financial support it needs to succeed. As South Africa, and on behalf of the AU, we look forward to this cooperation. Working with all States and partners to achieve our collective objectives, I’m sure we will succeed,” he said.

ACT-A was launched on 24 April and provided with political and financial support through global pledging events of 4 May and 27 June.

In a statement, the Presidency said the ACT-A had already established a dynamic portfolio of vaccine candidates, launched a global facility to optimise vaccine development and use, and has started the rollout of the first proven therapy for severe disease.

This collaboration has also identified a potentially game-changing rapid test and established a framework for equitable allocation of these products globally.

The Facilitation Council, which is expected to be formally established today and adopt Terms of Reference, will work to address key challenges and galvanise global leadership to enable for access to COVID-19 tools for all countries.

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