Rwanda has promised to share vaccines with the rest of the East African Community as a way of strengthening regional integration and building regional health care capacities in the region who healthcare system was caught off-guard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rwanda’s Minister of Health Dr. Daniel Ngamije made the commitment at the 9th East Africa HealthCare Federation (EAHF) hybrid virtual conference which kicked off in Kigali city this September 9-10, 2021,
For Dr. Ngamije, the vaccination gaps will be solved so soon once Rwanda starts producing COVID-19 and other vaccines as the country has been selected to host a manufacturing facility for the region.
“These vaccines are not for Rwanda alone but for the region. We will share vaccines with our member countries to solve this problem. Currently we are working on finalizing production plans which by next year we will be ready,” Ngamije said in a side interview.
The International Financial Cooperation (IFC) on Friday committed to support Rwanda to develop a vaccine manufacturing facility and contribute to expand vaccine production in Africa among others identified countries -Senegal and South Africa seen as potential regional vaccine manufacturing hubs on the continent
The EAHF is a rotating role and Rwanda has hosted it twice under Rwanda Healthcare Federation (RHF) in 2015 (in-person) and virtually this year,
It brings together regional health experts and private sector from Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
This year the conference focused on regional Financing and Digital Health and sharing experience, innovative intervention from each member state during COVID-19.
It also discussed better ways to engage the private sector in building breakthrough technologies in response to the pandemics now and in the future.
Dr. Ngamije said that with lessons learnt from COVID-19, the way forward will be to come up with regional health financing, digitalization of data and sharing information and resources.
“Covid-19 has given us a chance of changing the healthcare system in the region with health digitalization as a top priority now to advance health services on top of interoperability and health financing through public private partnerships at the core of this,” Ngamije said.
Despite symbiotic and sometimes uncoordinated regional response to COVID-19 which caught many regional countries unprepared in terms of infrastructure, policy and procedural intervention, most of the health experts said the region has managed to coordinate its emergency response but was challenged by lack of vaccine access.
“One of the challenges we had was lack of COVID-19 vaccines and we saw that many rich countries have not been able to share vaccines equitably,” said Pierre Claver Niyonigiye, the Burundi Health Care Federation representative.
This has seen a setback in vaccination programs in the region with many of the countries performing below their vaccination targets since March 2021 when the Covid-19 vaccines started hitting global markets.
For instance Rwanda has set a target of vaccinating 60% (about 7million) of its population by 2022 but only 2.5million have received the first dose and 1million with both doses which represents 25%, while in Kenya and Uganda also reported a range of about 1 million vaccinated.
Statistics from the Statsista data portal shows a total number of COVID-19 vaccination doses administered in East Africa as of September 6, 2021 have reached over 12.5million.
And by country, Kenya leads, followed by Ethiopia and Rwanda in top three places, while Comoros, Sycelles, South Sudan, Somalia, Djbouti and Tanzania are in less than 400,000.
This low vaccination drive is also reflected on continent, which as a whole has less than 2%, though most countries have received donation (COVAX) and bought their own vaccines.
Danny Mutembe, a pharmaceutical investor and Chairperson of EAHF said that the pandemic has been a lesson for member countries and has driven EAC towards an unprecedented regional integration focus through a consolidated regional health care system.
After managing to have regional information sharing system funded by Africa Economic Research Commission (EARC) in 2020, Mutembe said that the next move will be to draw a profound plan and mechanism of having the private sector engagement in financing existing gaps especially data management.