Kenya inches closer to producing own vaccines as consortium of top researchers is launched

KENYA – The Sisulu Foundation launched on Thursday brings together top researchers and research institutes in vaccines and virology from the continent.

The aim is to accelerate responses from within African research community with regards to diseases and pandemics.

The Sisulu Foundation brings together top researchers and research institutes in vaccines and virology from the continent including the KAVI institute for Clinical research at the University of Nairobi.

Top on the agenda is coming up with a Covid-19 vaccine to help mitigate the already existing shortage due to global supply challenges.

The foundation will also seek to establish a collaborative Pan African platform for training, research and development in pandemics through local and sustainable solutions and allow for African scientists to contribute to solving the health challenges facing Africa collectively.

Already, a fully equipped laboratory that will be aiding the research process has been set up at the University of Nairobi College of Health Sciences at KNH.

Other partners include the Walter Sisulu University, South Africa, the University of Bothwana, the South African Vaccination and Immunization Centre, the mother and child University Hospital – Jeanne EBORI in Gabon.

Others are the University of Bonn, Germany and the National Institute of Biochemistry in Slovenia and the Institute of Health Research, Epidemiological Surveillance and Training from Senegal.

According to Health director general Patrick Amoth, Africa has fallen behind in the race to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people against Covid-19.

This is due to the fact that the continent faces severe shortage of vaccines for its population as new infections continue to rise.

“Lack of vaccines to produce vaccines limits vaccine availability in disease emergency situations like the current pandemic. We have been taught hard lessons that we must be self-reliant and avoid over reliance on external supplies that are prone to many challenges,” Amoth said.

Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative virologist Omu Anzala said the collaboration aims at ensuring availability of vaccines that are Africa specific, among them the Covid-19 and Ebola and other diseases that have been causing havoc on the continent and Kenya in specific.

HIV has been a challenge but we are also there. There are other viruses that are unique to this continent. For example, we don’t have a vaccine for Rift Valley Fever and you know the disease is a major problem along the rift valley,” Anzala said.

University of Nairobi College of Health Sciences principal James Machuki noted that research is an expensive enterprise that requires heavy investment in terms of financial and infrastructural development as well as strong collaborations with the like-minded institutions.

The foundation will allow African scientists to contribute to solve the health challenges for Africa collaboratively and that KAVI will provide leadership in the East African node.

Lack of access to vaccines has seen many African countries exhaust their initial supplies and the source countries for vaccines are unable to keep up with the demand for supplies. As a result, many African countries are staring at a crisis.

We are confident that we shall show that we can make it as Kenyans, as Africans and obviously celebrate such successes. When dealing with pandemics like SARS a one-week delay in applying control measures may triple the size of the outbreak and increase its duration by four weeks or more,” Machuki said.

Data show that less than one per cent of the initial target of 200 million people in Africa has been vaccinated against Covid-19 to date.

As the vaccination gathers momentum, there are less than 10 African manufacturers with vaccine production capacity based in only five countries namely Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.

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