President Ramaphosa welcomes the Serum Institute funding initiative for establishment of AU Health Workforce

PRETORIA-President Cyril Ramaphosa has, in his capacity as AU COVID-19 Champion, welcomed the Serum Institute of India (SII) ground-breaking initiative to provide an initial USD 2,500,000 that will support the AU COVID-19 Commission as it implements the mandate to establish an AU Health Workforce Task Team which will undertake the programmatic work, public engagement and consensus building towards a fit-for-purpose health workforce that can sustain Universal Health Coverage in Africa.
The AU COVID-19 Commission supports President Ramaphosa in its role as COVID-19 Champion. It partners with Africa CDC (which forms the technical arm of the Secretariat), Serum Institute of India and Seed Global Health to execute this mandate.

This comes as the partner organizations take stock of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa and the need for sustained financing for health workforce development. The initial funds provided by the Serum Institute will galvanise investment into an African and global health workforce.

The SII announcement follows a meeting held on Tuesday 12 July to commemorate the first anniversary of the AU COVID-19 Commission, ahead of President Ramaphosa formally submitting a progress report to the 4th Mid- Year Coordinating Meeting between the African Union, the Regional Economic Communities and the Regional Mechanism on 17 July 2022.

President Ramaphosa established the COVID-19 Commission in 2021 to strengthen the continental institutions established as part of the AU’s continental response to COVID-19. This includes the Africa Joint Continental Strategy on Africa’s COVID-19 Response, the African Medical Supplies Platform, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) and others established during South Africa’s tenure as AU Chair in 2020.

President Ramaphosa seeks to align political, health and economic leaders with a long-term transformational plan to train and retain a complete health workforce in Africa through a compact amongst member states. He has secured a mandate to prioritise the health workforce agenda and maintain political attention on the issue.

The African Union Health Workforce Task Team (AU-HWTT) is an ambitious new initiative which aims to develop a comprehensive framework to build a full African healthcare workforce - in pursuit of economic recovery and global health security.

Health workforce development is a critical pillar of the AU’s New Public Health Order towards universal health coverage, pandemic preparedness and health security.

Data has shown that the social and financial returns on investing in the health workforce are estimated to be 9 to 1, and in some health areas such as midwifery, there is a 16-fold return for every dollar spent on training a new midwife. For countries or continents where the youth population make up over 50 per cent, the health workforce represents a pathway for job creation, economic recovery and social inclusion.

The AU COVID-19 Commission will oversee Africa CDC’s implementation of the initiative in partnership with Seed Global Health. It is anticipated that SII’s initial donation will act as a catalyst and “global rallying cry” for other investors, charities and governments to step forward and help build the systems needed to recover from COVID-19.

President Ramaphosa has welcomed this seed funding from Serum Institute of India, saying: “I am pleased to see that Serum, as the producer of medical countermeasures, understands that it is the health workforce that delivers these lifesaving tools to the people. We welcome this contribution to kick start the continental health workforce initiative and call on businesses, donors and other investors to follow Serum’s example.”

Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India said: “We have a long history of providing healthcare support in Africa, including billions of affordable routine vaccines against diseases such as measles and polio, and the development of new vaccines to protect against meningitis and malaria.

“But the pandemic has taught us the need not only for life saving medicines but for the life-saving health workers to administer them.

“The AU Health Workforce Task Team, will mark the first step in the building of the African healthcare workforce of the future.

“We call on governments, charities and companies alike to step forward and contribute to this historic process and empower the experts at the African Union and Seed Global Health to make this lasting systemic change. This will not only help to ensure more people in Africa get vaccinated to finally end the acute phase of Covid-19 and prepare the continent for the health threats of tomorrow.”

Dr Ahmed E. Ogwell Ouma, Acting Director of Africa CDC has also welcomed this investment, adding: "Africa CDC welcomes the support from the Serum Institute of India to support a key pillar of Africa's New Public Health Order. This is also in line with our vision of respectful and action-oriented partnerships."

Dr. Vanessa Kerry, CEO and founder of Seed Global Health, said: “We are grateful to Serum Institute of India for their inspiring commitment which helps champion the necessary investments in the health workforce. 

"Having worked alongside partners to help train over 36,000 health workers to meet patients’ needs, Seed has seen first-hand the damaging impact of not having enough health workers. COVID has exponentially exacerbated the crisis. 

"Governments have committed to vaccine donations but rarely to the essential human resource infrastructure needed to deliver them. The compact is ambitious–we should be too. It will require historic up-front investment as well as investments in Universal Health Coverage grounded in the principles of access, quality, and financial protection.”

Along the SII announcement, President Ramaphosa also announced the introduction to Africa of the oral therapeutic Paxlovid that can now be purchased by AU member states at cost price. Paxlovid is cheaper than other oral therapeutics, reduces death and hospitalisation by 89 per cent, is easy to administer, has few side effects and works against the Omicron variant.

This, coupled with increased vaccination, will significantly reduce the burden on Africa’s health systems that are being rebuilt to recover routine services and for future pandemic preparedness.

THE AU COVID-19 COMMISSION

The AU COVID-19 Commission was established by H.E. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa upon his appointment as AU COVID-19 Champion in 2021. 

The Commission is mandated to support the President in his role by guiding the core response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the continent and to propose ways towards strong socioeconomic recovery for the continent.

The Secretariat of the Commission comprises the Office of the Presidency in South Africa and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). 

Since its inaugural meeting in June 2021, the COVID-19 Commission has secured a number of key mandates to maintain the momentum of the core COVID-19 response and to build future health resilience. 

These include committing to two hundred million tests on the continent, of which nearly 111 million tests have been completed through community testing, sentinel and wastewater surveillance.

Other key mandates secured by the COVID-19 Champion in the AU are:

• The establishment of the African Pandemic Preparedness and Response Authority, which will prepare and respond to future regional outbreaks.

• The conversion of the COVID-19 Relief Fund to the Africa Epidemic Fund and the replenishment of that fund for future pandemic preparedness.

• The Establishment of the Alliance on Health Systems Strengthening, which will pursue the determinations of the Abuja Declaration

SEED GLOBAL HEALTH

Seed Global Health, led by Dr. Vanessa Kerry, works in partnership with governments and academic institutions to train health workers across countries on the African continent – to date, which includes over 36,000 healthcare professionals who serve catchments of more than seventy million people. 

As a social enterprise, we are united in the belief that quality, dignified healthcare can and should be accessible for all. We have seen first-hand how dedication, discipline, and long-term investments in the health workforce can improve health outcomes in any setting.

SERUM INSTITUTE OF INDIA

Driven by the philanthropic philosophy of affordable vaccines, Serum Institute of India Pvt, Ltd. is the world's largest vaccine manufacturer by number of doses produced and sold globally (more than 1.5 billion doses), supplying the world's least expensive and WHO-accredited vaccines to as many as 170 countries.

It was founded in 1966 with the aim of manufacturing lifesaving immunobiological drugs including vaccines worldwide. 

With a strong commitment towards global health, the institute's objective has been proliferated by bringing down the prices of newer vaccines such as such as Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hib, BCG, r-Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccines.

SII is credited with bringing world-class technology to India, through its state-of-the-art equipped multifunctional production facility in Manjari, Pune and government agencies to transform emergency medicine and critical care along with spearheading the race of vaccine development against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Serum Life Sciences Ltd is a subsidiary company of Serum Institute of India, with a global sales office in London to market COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by Serum Institute of India

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