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France to invest in efforts to produce more Covid vaccine in Africa: Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday vowed to invest in the production of more vaccines in Africa, a continent where less than two percent of people have been immunised against Covid-19.

Macron arrived in South Africa Friday from a historic visit to Rwanda where he acknowledged French responsibility in the 1994 genocide.

“It is a matter of duty,” to support the poorest countries to access vaccines, he said after talks with Cyril Ramaphosa at Union Buildings, the seat of government.

“We will very much put in place an investment strategy for the industry to produce more,” particularly in Africa, he said.

The two leaders discussed a temporary waiver of World Trade Organisation (WTO) property rights over coronavirus vaccines.

The idea is being pushed by South Africa and India, which say the waiver will spur vaccine production in developing countries.

There should be “no barrier to access to vaccines. Let’s lift all these barriers and deliver concrete and efficient tech transfer”, Macron said

“Covid vaccines must be global public goods,” he said.

– ‘Race to save lives’ –

At the University of Pretoria, Macron and the German health minister Jens Spahn announced investment deals to produce more vaccines in Africa, a project also backed by the European Union, the United States and the World Bank.

“Together with France and the EU we want to support technology transfer and the establishment of regional manufacturing centres,” said Spahn, pledging Germany would invest $50 million into the project.

Ramaphosa said access was the “biggest and most dangerous challenge” for the continent with vaccines flooding into the developed world yet “trickling” into Africa.

“We are in a race to save lives,” said Ramaphosa.

“We cannot continue to wait in the queue for life-saving vaccines. The longer we wait the more lives we put at risk,” said Ramaphosa.

Sub-Saharan Africa has lagged behind the rest of the world with vaccination — less than two percent of its population has been immunised six months after the campaign started.

Ramaphosa has sounded the alarm about what he called “vaccine apartheid” between rich countries and poor ones.

Pharma companies oppose the waiver, saying it could sap incentives for future research and development.

They also point out that manufacturing a vaccine requires know-how and technical resources — something that cannot be acquired at the flip of a switch.

Macron’s approach is to push for a transfer of technology to enable production sites in poorer countries.

He said while Africa has about 20 percent of vaccine needs, it only produced one percent.

– Covid hit –

South Africa is the continent’s most industrialised economy but also its worst-hit by Covid.

The country has recorded more than 1.6 million cases of Africa’s 4.7 million infections and accounts for more than 40 percent of its nearly 130,000 fatalities.

But just about one percent of its population of 59 million have been vaccinated — most of them health workers and people aged 60 or above.

The immunisation effort got off to a stuttering start when South Africa purchased AstraZeneca vaccines earlier this year and then sold them to other African countries following fears that they would be less effective against a local variant.

Macron’s trip was scheduled to have taken place more than a year ago but was postponed as the pandemic shifted into higher gear.

The two leaders also discussed the security crisis in northern Mozambique, where a bloody jihadist insurgency is now in its fourth year.

The French energy giant Total last month suspended work on a massive $20 billion gas project in Cabo Delgado province after jihadists attacked the nearby town of Palma.

Macron pledged France would help with naval support in the fight against jihadist violence if requested, but any intervention should be channelled through southern Africa’s regional bloc.

Before flying home on Saturday, Macron will talk to members of the French community and, like many VIPs before him, visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation.