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SA must learn from the scramble for Covid-19 vaccines, develop own capacity – Pandor


  • Not being able to develop its own vaccines leaves South Africa vulnerable, says international relations minister Naledi Pandor.
  • She said the Covid-19 pandemic teaches us lessons about the importance of research development and innovation.
  • ·South Africa will not always agree with its BRICS partners at multilateral forums, but the cooperation is valuable, Pandor noted.

 

South Africa should use lessons from the pandemic to focus on ensuring that it can manufacture vaccines in future, rather than just advocating that these should be made freely available to all, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor has said. 

Pandor on Tuesday night told a Zoom lecture organised by the South African BRICS Think Tank, made up of researchers and academics: “There’s no better lesson than the pandemic towards the importance of research development and innovation and I believe, if there is anything South Africa should give attention to, it is that. If we don’t, we remain vulnerable.” 

She added that South Africa couldn’t be “arguing for vaccines to be a public good, but we are not able to devise a vaccine ourselves”. South Africa had the capability, the intellectual might and the institutions that could do this, Pandor, a former minister of science and technology, said. 

She said the lack of research development and innovation capacity on the African continent should be the focus of South Africa’s work in the African Union, as well as in the Southern African Development Community. “That intellectual property must be the focus of our interventions in our post-Covid recovery – if ever there will be a recovery,” she added. 

READ | SA’s plan to secure Covid-19 vaccine unclear as world scrambles to stockpile millions of doses

Pandor said countries in the BRICS bloc were impacted by the pandemic in different ways. “China was able to respond with strict measures speedily, and managed to contain the virus. Russia was hard-hit, but has the capacity to focus on the science of this virus, and is one of those that early on announced the potential development of a vaccine.”

Brazil and South Africa were “quite hard-hit” and were the poorest in terms of science institutions and ability to respond, while in India micro and medium-sized businesses, where a large proportion of the population worked, were also hard-hit. “We need to be thinking very, very carefully about how we better prepare our countries before future disasters of this nature occur,” she said.

Response 

Pandor praised efforts by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also African Union chair this year, to co-ordinate the African response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which gave the continent the confidence to respond to the pandemic.

Moderna and Pfizer have in recent times announced that they have developed coronavirus vaccines which are more than 90% effective, but it appears that Africa is towards the back of the queue for the distribution of these.

Russia claims to have developed the first Covid-19 vaccine, but Western scientists remain sceptic due to Russia’s opaqueness around the approval process.

Pandor described the nature of collaboration between the BRICS country on the international stage, by saying: “While for South Africa BRICS constitutes a forum that could be a catalyst for the promotion of a progressive global agenda, there isn’t a constant common and shared perspective on all issues.” 

South Africa has in the past been criticised for sacrificing its human rights principles at international forums to support its BRICS partners, but in recent times has deviated from the BRICS position on occasion. 

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