With vaccine inequality becoming a pressing issue globally following the COVID-19 outbreak; continents like Africa are advised to invest more in clinical trials and vaccine developments.
Clinical trials and vaccine developments curtailed the spread of disease and reduced public health threats. For instance, the discovery of the COVID-19 vaccine has eased the burdens of pandemics including coronavirus.
It has saved countless lives and is helping to turn the tide on the pandemic globally. But, inequalities in vaccine distributions remain a key barrier in fighting pandemics.
The hard fact is the discovery of vaccines elsewhere may not be effective for people in other countries unless conducted locally. This is because responses to drugs or vaccines are complicated and can be influenced by, among other things, human genetics. Different people will respond differently to different drugs and vaccines.
In fact, COVID-19 vaccine trials have been conducted in all continents, representing all diverse human populations in the world. According to sources, in Africa, Egypt and South Africa are participating in these trials. Being also one of the largest multicountry trials on cases of COVID-19, the ANTICOV trial was launched in September 2020 in 13 countries.
The trial brings together 26 prominent global research and development organizations from Africa and Europe. These efforts are opening up a new window of opportunity to push for more efficient and effective clinical trials in Africa.
There is an increased effort to conduct clinical trials and recently expanded at different sites throughout Africa. One of the good news coming from the continent is that clinical trials to test the vaccine manufactured in South Africa for COVID-19 will start in the first quarter of this year. South Africa has been chosen as the first African country to host Africa’s vaccine manufacturing hub.
Despite the discrepancies, the World Health Organization said recently that over the past two years, the African continent has gotten smarter, faster, and better at responding to each new surge in cases of Covid-19.
To expedite this progress, the WHO Africa office is spearheading an initiative in dozens of African countries to ramp up COVID-19 testing and clinical trials. According to sources, Africa has clinical trial infrastructure and capabilities. But the resources remain unevenly distributed.
The vast majorities are in Egypt and South Africa with the countries investing more heavily in research and development than others on the continent. Generally speaking, African countries lag behind in clinical trials. Poor visibility of existing sites, limited infrastructure, and unpredictable clinical trial regulatory timelines are some of the key issues hindering investments in this area.
To redress the existing challenges facing clinical trials in the continent, African governments need to evaluate their role and level of investment in the general area of clinical trials. Besides, clinical trial centers, clinical research institutions, and clinical triallists on the continent should strive to increase their visibility in the global space.
Experts in the area argue that more countries on the African continent must urgently get involved in clinical trials so that the data collected will accurately represent the continent at a genetic level.
Instead, African governments need to look at ways of harmonizing the response towards COVID-19 across the continent. Building the capacity of experts, establishing centers of excellence, and fulfilling the required infrastructure are the major prerequisites to conducting goodquality clinical trials.
Key stakeholders should work together to expedite the rollout of trials in different countries. This would include inter-country collaborations such as working with different governments and scientists in codesigning trials and providing harmonized guidelines on patient management, sample collection, and tracking and sharing results in real-time.
Providing additional funding to clinical research institutions and clinical trials is also imperative to speed up vaccine development and clinical trials. African governments should also strengthen coordination with key pharmaceutical companies with drug candidates for COVID-19.
This in turn would pave the way for encouraging the companies’ appetite and collaborations in conducting relevant trials on the continent.
BY DESTA GEBREHIWOT
The Ethiopian 16 February 2022