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Rwanda : an African model in pharmaceutical industry development

Thirty years after the genocide, Rwanda emerges as a model in the development of its pharmaceutical industry. Through a recent agreement with the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation, the country is committed to addressing critical gaps in vaccine manufacturing, thereby contributing to the fight against vaccine inequality across the African continent.

By Aimable Twahirwa

A recent agreement between Rwanda and the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation has injected new momentum into the African pharmaceutical industry. This agreement aims to help the continent tackle vaccine inequalities and address critical gaps in vaccine manufacturing.

Rwanda is resolutely committed to expanding access to vaccines to improve health and longevity in Africa. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the strategic importance of access to vaccine manufacturing. Countries and regions with the most robust research, manufacturing, and regulatory ecosystems were the first to access COVID-19 vaccines.

The current demand for vaccines in Africa is estimated to be over one billion dollars per year

Conversely, other regions were excluded due to vaccine nationalism and market failures, especially early in the pandemic. According to the Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), the current demand for vaccines in Africa is estimated to be over one billion dollars per year.

The African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation, launched in January 2024, aims to address common challenges facing African pharmaceutical companies. This includes weaknesses in human and institutional capacities as well as limited technical capacity to use and apply new technologies.

Democratizing vaccine production technology

@Presidency of the Republic of Rwanda (Village Urugwiro)-DR

The factory of the German company BioNTech, based on maritime containers, was inaugurated in December 2023, marking a significant milestone in the implementation of this initiative. The ability to produce vaccines in Africa is crucial for mobilizing more intra-African investments in the pharmaceutical industry.

Before the inauguration of the BioNTech factory in Rwanda, there were at least ten African vaccine manufacturers based in five different countries. The capacity to produce vaccines in Africa, emphasized by the World Health Organization (WHO), requires an integrated approach, bringing together key elements such as financing, skills development, regulatory facilities, and technological know-how.

In this regard, the new factory, located in the outskirts of Kigali, is expected to start producing 50 million vaccines. Production is set to increase based on the demand for mRNA-based vaccine candidates to combat malaria and tuberculosis.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame emphasizes that this partnership with BioNTech demonstrates that vaccine technology can be democratized. He also recalls that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the challenges African countries face in accessing vaccines and medications. « The African Union has met to commit firmly to not finding itself in this situation again, » said President Kagame during the inauguration of a vaccine manufacturing plant in Rwanda.

This vaccine manufacturing initiative based in Kigali serves as a model for vaccine manufacturing facilities across the continent to enable the development of an African pharmaceutical industry and access to healthcare for all.

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