Delegates at the 2022 CelebrateLAB West Africa conference held in Accra have stressed that Africa must work to achieve the African Union target of producing at least 60 percent of vaccines used in Africa by 2040, as against the one percent of vaccines produced in Africa before the COVID-19 pandemic.
They are confident this will ensure the availability of affordable, high quality and accessible vaccines throughout the continent.
The delegates however commended Ghana, Senegal and Rwanda for their partnerships with BioTech for vaccine production in Africa to address the issues of sufficiency – but called for wider collaboration, urging West African governments to build diagnostic and research expertise to meet vaccine manufacturing in Africa for Africa.
“COVID-19 has again exposed the gaps in West Africa’s health sector and uncovered the sub-region’s diagnostic challenges. The initial difficulties with obtaining testing kits and other diagnostics supplies affected the region’s response to the pandemic. Additionally, the challenges in securing vaccines at the onset of vaccine deployment across the world highlighted the need for West Africa to work relentlessly toward achieving self-sufficiency in vaccines, diagnostic kits and materials, and other medical supplies.
“Africa, as a matter of duty and patriotism, must support its scientists and innovators in Biotech and Biopharm… and consciously focus on improving the acceptance and cost of diagnostic devices and kits produced on the continent. Building research capacity and attaining vaccine sufficiency requires effective support from all stakeholders, including academia, governmental, private industry and non-governmental agencies and professionals alike,” the conference communique said.
This year’s conference provided an avenue for stakeholders across West Africa to access information on Laboratory Systems Strengthening (LSS), provided continuing education to clinical laboratory and research professionals – and for developing public-private partnerships to enhance an environment of innovation.
It also strengthened the labour-force for cross-border trade in skills, knowledge in clinical and research best practices and expertise, providing a platform for vendors and suppliers to share expertise and technology best-suited for the continent.
The keynote speaker, former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, noted that Africa through determination and resilience has gotten better in responding to disease outbreaks, and applauded the enormous role that medical laboratory professionals across the continent played in the diagnosis and surveillance of COVID-19.
She then urged all managers of healthcare systems and health ministries across the West Africa sub-region to recognise and respect the important contribution of medical laboratory and research professionals in the quest to ensure a healthier continent.
Building laboratory expertise and capacity
Participants also said laboratory infrastructural capacity is as important as human resources in ensuring high-quality diagnosis. Therefore, health ministries and managers of health facilities in public and private sector establishments across West Africa should champion the building of needed infrastructural capacity required for quality professional delivery.
They noted that the current patient-to-medical laboratory professional ratio is inadequate, yet there are many unemployed trained laboratory scientists in many West African countries; hence, health ministries across the sub-region must engage more professionals to build the diagnostic capacity of public healthcare facilities.
“Opportunities for researchers to collaborate and network within West Africa with colleagues having similar research interests are also critical. Laboratory and research scientists across the sub-region must therefore make conscious efforts at networking to explore areas of collaboration and find solutions to common problems and share expertise and best practices,” the communique stated.