The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is an annual event of the United Nations. It is the peak of global policymaking as it provides a pivotal platform for the world to address global challenges collectively. The 78th session in New York in September 2023 witnessed an unprecedented focus on health, with three High-Level Meetings dedicated to reshaping the international health agenda. The meetings included Pandemic Prevention Preparedness and Response, held on 20th September 2023. Universal Health Coverage was held on 21st September 2023, and Tuberculosis on 22nd September 2023.
In Addition to the main UNGA event, several High-Level Side events on various socio-economic and development agendas were organized on the sidelines. Amid these conversations, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) played a central role, reinforcing Africa’s commitment to health security and self-sufficiency. In addition to its engagement panel discussions, roundtables, and bilateral meetings on the margins of UNGA, Africa CDC, under the leadership of the African Union (AU), hosted a High-Level side event that complemented the broader discussions.
High-Level Side Event on Advancing Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness, and Response (PPPR)
On September 18, 2023, H.E. Matamela Cyril Ramphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa, graced the side event on Advancing Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response (PPPR). The event focused on local manufacture of health products and technologies in Africa, leveraging the role of public-private partnerships. This presented an opportunity to foster conversations and recommendations on Africa’s efforts towards strengthening the continental Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response (PPPR) architecture.
The African Union Heads of Agencies/Organs from Africa CDC, the African Union New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) at the event underscored the need for Africa’s journey to self-reliance in health security by investing in research and strengthening regulatory bodies towards the path to enhancing local production.
Promoting Self-Reliance in PPPR
Despite efforts like the TRIPS Waiver at the World Trade Organization, Africa continues to work towards equitable access to intellectual property and information for critical medical countermeasures. This drives African Member States to pursue self-reliance in PPPR, recognizing the world’s interconnectedness. As global PPPR architecture evolves, Africa must actively protect its interests, ensuring that African voices are heard. Africa’s capacity for manufacturing is key, as over-reliance on imported health products, including 99% of vaccines, remains a pressing concern. Lessons learned from the global response to COVID-19 are propelling this vision, with a focus on creating more effective strategies for future pandemics.
“The future of medical countermeasures mechanism – interim or permanent to ensure adequate representation of the African Union Member States, address all dimensions of equity and access, and promote local manufacturing efforts”. Underscored H.E Dr Jean Kaseya, the Africa CDC Director General.
Challenges to promoting local manufacturing persist, including high operating costs, regulatory complexities, insufficient Research and Development capacity, and a lack of government stewardship. The AfCFTA Secretariat reports that Africa’s annual demand for finished products is USD18 billion, with 61% met by imports. Africa must increase investments in research and development, strengthen regulatory bodies, and enhance local production to drive growth and access.
Through Africa CDC, the AU has taken significant steps, established the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) and advanced local innovation and manufacturing of health products. These initiatives aim to reduce reliance on imports and foster collaboration among stakeholders.
Furthermore, the African Medicines Agency (AMA) was established by the African Union to enhance the capacity of State Parties and Regional Economic Communities to regulate medical products and technologies. The operationalization of the AMA presents an opportunity to harmonize quality standards, foster innovation, and advocate for government support.
Africa is on a transformative journey towards self-sufficiency in health security and medical product manufacturing. These developments represent a critical step in ensuring Africa is better prepared for future pandemics.
UNGA 78 was a significant moment for global health, with Africa CDC playing a central role in advancing health security and self-sufficiency in Africa. As the world grapples with health challenges, Africa’s commitment to building a healthier and more resilient continent is the best path to creating a resilient health system. The collaborative efforts at the UNGA underscore the importance of global solidarity in addressing health crises and creating a better world for all.
Dorothy Wambeti Njagi, Senior Communication Officer – Policy, Health Diplomacy & Communication: Africa CDC | Tel: +251 940 559 950 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
G. Nekerwon Gweh, Communication Officer – Policy, Health Diplomacy & Communication; Africa CDC | Tel: +251 945 502 310 | Email: GwehN@africa-union.org