Minister Kitir and WHO General Director Dr. Tedros visit tech hub for vaccines in South Africa

Minister for Development Cooperation and Major Cities Policy, Meryame Kitir, will pay a working visit to Cape Town, South Africa, from 10 to 13 February. The visit will focus on local production of vaccines and the Minister will be accompanied by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Belgian virologist Marc van Ranst. Minister Kitir emphasises the importance of international solidarity and science. After all, exchanging knowledge and science has proven to be crucial in the fight against this pandemic.

The delegation will visit the partners of a tech transfer hub that, with Belgian support, wants to develop a patent-free vaccine against the coronavirus. One of the South African players in the hub, the biotechnology company Afrigen, recently announced that it had cracked the formula for such a vaccine.

"Everyone knows by now that vaccination is the key. Here, but also in the rest of the world," said Minister Kitir. "I have been working with the World Health Organisation to find a formula for a vaccine that is available to everyone. This has now happened faster than expected. It is an important step because it means more factories worldwide will be producing vaccines. More and faster vaccination - worldwide - is in the interest of us all. Because we are only safe when everyone is safe."

Besides this initiative, Belgium shared some 11 million vaccines with vulnerable countries - mainly through COVAX. Minister Kitir reiterates that this solidarity is important to meet urgent needs, in addition there also has to be a long-term, sustainable solution.

The tech transfer hub in Cape Town plays a central role in this long-term vision. Within this incubator of knowledge, partners such as Afrigen, the South African research institute SAMRC and vaccine company Biovac are working together to acquire mRNA technology and share it with developing countries.

The Belgian Development Cooperation supports efforts in Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa to develop a local pharmaceutical knowledge and production sector. Belgium invested EUR 8 million in the Cape Town tech transfer hub. With the development and local production of an own and effective vaccine, the discussion on the possible suspension of intellectual property rights to vaccines can also be closed. Now that a first step towards African vaccines has been taken, a whole series of studies and tests must be conducted before production can start. Afrigen hopes to conduct phase-1 studies by the end of 2022.

Besides the hub and Afrigen, Minister Kitir will also visit the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI). Most of all, she intends to meet the people who are at the heart of the vaccination campaign, such as health workers in local vaccination centres, smart projects that bring the vaccine to remote communities (such as Vaxi-taxi) and, of course, the people who get vaccinated, making us all safer.