The World Health Organization (WHO) and several peer-reviewed published papers report that some of these vaccines have now been shown to work in preclinical and early phase clinical trials. COVID-19 is having severe effects on developed and under-developed countries alike. However, there was more than fear about what impact the monster virus could have in under-developed countries in the global south in general and Africa in particular. Despite some African countries’ historical experience in eradicating and dealing with pandemics, the contested fear is directed to “Africa” because she is “less equipped” to tackle the pandemic, COVID-19.
The disputed fear sparked when cases COVID-19 were registered in some African countries. Microsoft founder feared, Bill Gates the billionaire feared. He then prophesied: “COVID-19 could claim 10 million lives in Africa. His darling wife and co-chair of the Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates, interpreted the husband’s prophecy, without drastic actions she argues, COVID-19 could lead to dead bodies lining the streets of Africa. Africa, as she is generalized, was therefore considered incapable of the virus, unable to protect her children from the spread COVID-19 and contribute to any effort that will aim at eradicating the killer.
Using Bill Gates’ prophecy and his wife’s assumption, it may not be surprising to witness how COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine candidates have resurrected old stereotypes, where despite evidence that confirms Africans ‘contribution not only in biomedicine and knowledge production, poverty and supposed scientific underdevelopment have muted Africans biomedical research contributions and strategies that aimed at eradicating diseases in Africa. This is what professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos calls epistemicide in his challenging and an inspiring book titled “Epistemologies of the South:
Justice Against Epistemicide.” Santos argues that Western domination has profoundly marginalized knowledge production and research from the global south where Africa is located. Mwenebyake-Jérémie Nyamangyoku seems to be unaware of this epistemic injustice, that is the reason behind the post he published on the 9th of January 2021. Nyamangyoku is among young Africans who are in the front line to make sure that Africa is a better place for everyone, He is the founder of AfriDev Consulting Pty Ltd. AfriDev is a global management consulting company led by young professionals working for sustainable social-economic development. It provides services in support of policy development, project management and staff training, investment opportunities and business development. He posted:
“ It is interesting to see how “Africans” are busy now looking at where they will get assistance with the COVID19 Vaccines, whereas while the whole world was busy in labs working against the clocks to try and find a vaccine… we Africans were busy with misleading rhetorics of how “Bill Gate” and Co want to exterminate Africa. This is the same mentality that has kept Africa behind all. While others are busy (even Asia) working on improving and creating systems and producing things… developing their regions; Africa is always busy criticizing, complaining and crying fouls. When time comes Africa becomes the first to start asking for help.
Imagine today a powerful country like South Africa (Africa largest economy) shouting Hurray… Happy… for probable lots of vaccines that will apparently be coming from India whereas this nation should be among the elite and while the others announced their vaccines are 70,80 or 90% effective; South Africa should be announcing how much efficiency os their vaccines. But hellas! The African curse kicked in… they spent time sharing misleading information on social media demonizing the westerns and officials looting the billions that were supposed to be invested on research and development. And we ask ourselves when will we ever be free from foreign interferences? How can we while all pur lives we want to be dependent on others??? What a pity for my Africa! What hap” (to maintain the originality of the post no attempt to correct grammatical mistakes was made)
It can be asked, why one must respond to his post? what is it that makes Nyamayangyoku’s post to be subjected to a scientific debate? The answer to these questions seems to be more than simple, the post perpetuates epistemic injustice, and nurture prejudices and stereotypes toward Africa as a continent, African people as global citizens who have the right to question anything that they think would affect them due to the fact that they have been victims of multiple scientific experimentations, and African scientists who it is depicting as useless. This response does neither mean to silence Nyamayangyoku’s view on COVID-19 vaccines production and procurement nor responds on behalf of the African biomedical and social research fraternities, caregivers, and ordinary African people. The intention to intensify the existing debate around vaccines production, expounding on some of the issues around imposed geographical lies, prejudice, and the politics of knowledge production is the motivation behind this piece.
Epistemicide and Imposed Geographical Liars
Even though the second paragraph of Nyamayangyoku’s post talks about South Africa as a country in the African continent, his post portraits Africa as a village or perhaps a country. He claims that “Africa is always busy criticizing, complaining and crying fouls. When time comes Africa becomes the first to start asking for help.” This claim seems to be borrowed from the expression of western prejudices on Africa, Africa does not have the ability to find solution to any problem that affect her, and does not have any contribution to the challenges affecting the world, in this case COVID-19. This assumption deliberately adopt and impose the idea that the solutions to African problems supposed to emerge or be formulated somewhere else, especially the West, because Africans do not have the ability to find solutions to all the challenge affecting them. This notion seems to be very worrying, specifically when it is expressed by a young black African entrepreneur who owns a consulting company that provides services in support of policy development, project management and staff training, investment opportunities and business development. However, there is no need for one to be much worried because the foundation of this notion is grounded in the DNA of what the illustrious Egyptian Marxian economist, political scientist and world-systems analyst, Professor Samir Amin calls Eurocentrism.
In his article title “Universalism, Eurocentrism, and Ideological Bias in Development Studies: From Modernisation to Neoliberalism” Professor John Brochman, a literary agent and author specializing in scientific literature, argues that Eurocentrism perpetuates intellectual dependence on a restricted group of prestigious Western academic institutions that determine the subject matter and methods of research. Using Brochman understanding of Eurocentrism, one would say that Eurocentric worldviews that occupy the place of privilege within the global policy community, and are dominant in the business world, as well as knowledge production and research seem to have blinded Nyamayangyoku and forced him to accept that Africans have nothing to offer hence they are scientific beggars, and intellectual useless. The sentiment behind Nyamayangyoku’s post sounds to be justified by geographic lies which are also grounded in the arrogance and intellectual dishonest of pre-colonial western Anthropologists, and the majority of contemporary Western Scholars and researchers. Despite the existence of sovereign African states, they still view Africa as a small entity, a jungle or to some circumstances a non-entity. It should be noted that Africa is the second-largest continent in the world in both area and population. Africa occupies about 20 % of Earth’s total land area, 54 sovereign African countries, and two disputed areas, Somaliland, and Western Sahara. Africa is neither a village nor a country, she must not be reduced to a village or a country. It is these deliberate geographical lies that cultivate prejudice, epistemic injustices and epistemicide. These prejudice, epistemic injustice, and epistemicide seem to gain space even in contreverlial and complex issues such COVID-19 Vaccine production, procurement, and distributions. Thus, much attention is needed in reading a post like the one Nyamayangyoku posted in his Facebook page.
Nyamangyoku argues that “It is interesting to see how “Africans” are busy now looking at where they will get assistance with the COVID19 Vaccines, whereas while the whole world was busy in labs working against the clocks to try and find a vaccine… we Africans were busy with misleading rhetorics of how “Bill Gate” and Co want to exterminate Africa. This is the same mentality that has kept Africa behind all.”
The above the statement is an expression Nyamangyoku’s audacity to speak on behalf of 1.3 billion Africans including himself! He sounds like one of the wealthy sons of Mother Africa who also spoke on behalf of Africans at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland early 2020. Like Nyamagyoku, Patrice Motsepe, the South African black billionaire and mining tycoon, told the controversial American President Donald Trump that: “Africa loves America, Africa loves you…” He later apologizes, “I do not have the right to speak on behalf of anybody except myself.” These types of statements do not only undermine 1.3 billion Africans, they confirm how a certain group of unconscious African political, business, and intellectual elites continue to reinforce Eurocentric worldviews and geographical lies and prejudice. They also commit espistemic injustice and espistemicide, by undermining the African contribution in science and technology; and alienate all forms of knowledge produce in Africa. They enforce the idea that African scientists do not contribute anything in knowledge production, innovation, and technology. Any conscious and proud member of the African the biomedical and social research fraternity can be disturbed or perhaps dissatisfied by Nyamayangyoku’s assumption that Africans were busy with misleading rhetoric while the entire world was busy working day and night to find the COVID-19 vaccines. Nyamayangyoku and everyone who has consumed much volume of prejudice should understand that both African scientists, politicians, caregivers, herbalists, and ordinary African people were not sleeping, or doing talking while their counterparts are working day and night. Despite poor infrastructure, luck of advanced medical technologies, unfair policies and procedures, African scientists, care givers, public officials and some ordinary African people have done excellent job beyond expectations, they were also working like others.
Nyamayangyoku’s Conceptual Mistakes in COVID-19 Vaccine Production
Even though his post encourages Africa to be active, it does have highest level of misleading assumption. it does not show that in fact South Africa and almost every African country that are highly affected by COVID-19 are not doing the talking, they are working day and night. He does not acknowledge any effort, he is disappointed. Behind Nyamayangyoku’s hypothesis, “South Africa is advanced compare to other African it should be among the countries that have managed to produce candidate vaccines.” He is disappointed, his disappointment calls for something to be done. He ignores that a lot has been done at different levels, national levels, regional level and individual African countries. His disappointment may be justified by the fact that his post does not provide any evidence that attests his understanding of the complexity of vaccine production. He seems to deliberately underestimate the impact of vaccine nationalism, and some of the issues that have been clarified in the earlier paragraph of this piece.
The “every nation for itself” approach to obtaining potential vaccines and remedies for Covid-19, which Nyamayangyolu’s seems to support, is the wrong way to go. It is the wrong way to reduce transmission, new eruptions of the disease, and disruptions of global supply chains. Instead, countries should deploy coordinated customized strategies based on science, not politics, this is what many African countries have been doing. It should also be noted that even though the US, UK, and European Union are among the top producers of vaccines around the world and most of the pharmaceutical companies, advanced biomedical research centers, and prominent biomedical researchers are based there, they have spent tens of billions of dollars on deals with vaccine front runners who are based in other countries such as India, China and Brazil. The US, UK, and some of European Union members are among the most advanced countries in almost everything, but still they are signing deals to buy COVID-19 vaccines! Nyamayangyoku is encouraged to accept that critical approach to understand power, partnerships, the pharmaceutical companies’ dictatorship, and patent procurement from WHO have become very influential in the study of global pandemics and the geopolitics of epidemics.
Vaccine Development and Manufacturing
A vaccine is defined by the WHO as, “a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. A vaccine typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe, its toxins or one of its surface proteins. The agent stimulates the body’s immune system to recognize the agent as foreign, destroy it, and “remember” it, so that the immune system can more easily recognize and destroy any of these microorganisms that it later encounters.” Evidences from major vaccines producers confirms that vaccine development is highly capital intensive and risky. Research to discover new vaccine antigens and novel approaches to immunization usually takes several years, and costs tens of millions of dollars. Vaccine research and development has largely been restricted to the few vaccine-producing countries. More than two thirds of new vaccines developed in the past 25 years have been developed in the US. Almost all countries import at least some vaccines because not all local suppliers produce every antigen available. From the above, Nyamayangyoku and everyone who are interested in the COVID19-Vaccine debate are invited to understand that all western countries are not vaccines producers, some have the capacity others do not have, the same as African countries. Therefore, expecting all African countries to be capable to produce a COVID19 vaccine is misleading.
Research proves that a vaccine may not necessarily be produced by a single entity, vaccines are produced by more than one institution, COVID19-Vaccine is not an exception. There are several different types of vaccines in development around the world, including Africa, some are currently distributed, others in clinical trial and in pre-clinical trials. The WHO’s COVID-19 candidate vaccine landscape database which compiles detailed information on COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development confirms that currently there are 64 vaccines in the clinical trials, and 173 in pre-clinical trials. , the production of vaccines is done outside of Africa, and clinical trials are done in some African countries! It should be well understood that out of the 64-vaccine candidates some have been developed by a good number of multinational pharmaceutical companies and biomedical research institutions that are based in some African countries in collaboration with top best African biomedical researchers and academics who are based in and outside Africa.
African effort to eradicate COVID19 and other pandemic diseases.
Before one can look at what Africans have done since the erupt of COVID19, it is important to note that a plethora of literature confirms unequivocally that Mother Africa has the world’s oldest evidence of human technological accomplishment, the oldest stone tools in the world was discovered in East Africa, and later evidence for tool production by hominin ancestors has been found across Sub-Saharan Africa. However, the history of science and technology in Africa since then has received somewhat little attention compared to other regions of the world; and sidelined, despite its importance.
When COVID19 erupted there were different views on how to tackle the disease and stop its spread between people, and the transmission from country to country. Biomedical researchers and other scientists from different field that relate to medical science around the world started looking for the cure. Most of the country that were highly affected were in the frontline in trying to find the cure, the idea around vaccines was not dominant, the chief strategy was to protect and save lives first, vaccines later. As far as African countries are concerned, it is more than relevant to note that despite the revelations made by both Melinda Gate and some experts worldwide, African countries have been able to control the pandemic compare to most advanced countries of the global north. This is not a miracle, because of prejudice, wester scientists and their philanthropists failed to understand that most of African countries have wonderful experience in controlling pandemics diseases.
The history of epidemics and biomedicine demonstrates the long experience and extensive expertise of researchers, caregivers, and ordinary people African people in dealing communicable diseases and any types of pandemics. The experience of crises, especially health crises, is much stronger in Africa than in Western countries, that is why most of the public health systems of most affected countries in global north collapsed in one year causing a panic around the world. Nyamayangyoku and others who are misinformed by lies and colonial prejudice are advised to understand, African countries did not only relay on their historical experience in dealing with pandemics, their scientists were also involved in advancing research to find the cure and vaccines. Bellow is a summery of the work that has been done by some of the African research institutions in collaboration with different partners.
- Institute Malgache De Recherches Appliquées, Malagasy Institute of Applied Research, IMRA
In 1958, with a personal investment derived from royalties accrued through his previous discoveries, Professor Albert Rakoto-Ratsimamanga founded IMRA. Since Rakoto-Ratsimamanga’s death in 2001, IMRA has been headed by his wife, Professor Suzanne Ratsimamanga. Under her leadership, IMRA has grown into a research institution that provides permanent employment for a scientific and administrative staff of about 150 people, and seasonal employment for almost 15,000 rural villagers. IMRA’s core purpose is to conduct research, and develop and market affordable drugs.
In 1965, Professors Albert and Susan Rakoto-Ratsimamanga discovered that traditional Malagasy healers were using a unique method to diagnose diabetes. Healers asked patients to urinate next to an anthill and observed the reaction of the ants. While ants avoid the urine of healthy humans, the urine of diabetic patients is rich in glucose and is especially attractive to the insects. After watching healers prescribe a plum-like fruit from the plant Syzygium cumini to treat their patients, the Ratsimamangas decided to systematically study the plant. This study resulted in the creation of a commercially produced drug, Madeglucyl. Pre-clinical studies on rats established the efficacy and safety of the drug, and led to clinical trials in Madagascar, Germany, and the United States. In December 1997, Madeglucyl was approved as a licensed medicine in Madagascar. Although a clinical trial was conducted in the US, report shows that the US’s health authorities rejected Madeglucyl, they certified it as herbal supplement. Madeglucyl is presently sold mainly in Madagascar, it has recently been launched in the international market under the trade name Glucanol Forte.
The IMRA effort has been undermined and prejudiced by western pharmaceutical companies, sabotaged by the World Health Organization, and other western medical authorities since since 1965. These prejudice and sabotage were witnessed when IMRA did discover the Covid-Organics (CVO). CVO is an artemisia-based Ayurvedic drink that was discovered by IMRA in the current quest for the cure of COVID-19. A wide range of scientific criticism followed the launch of CVO, most of the critics and sabotage came from western research lead institutions. Without cooperating with Madagascar as country and IMRA, the World Health Organization issued a warning against use of CVO, it argued Africans deserve medicine that went through proper scientific trials that follow international standard. This piece does not argue that CVO is the perfect medication to cure COVID19, it simply wants to explain Nyamangyoku that Africans were not sleeping when other were busy looking for vaccines and drugs to cure COVID. Despite poor medical research infrastructure, Madagascar is the first country to decide to integrate Artemisia into COVID-19 treatment.
- South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA)
In an article published by the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg entitled “Why Africa needs to be involved in the development of Covid-19 vaccines” among other things, Shabir Madhi argues tha most of African Covid-19 vaccine studies in Africa are occurring in South Africa. Madhi is a Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University and Director of the South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA) who leads the South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial. He contends that those studies are done in South Africa following the initiative of South African top researchers who managed to convince the vaccine developers to at least allow those studies to be undertaken in South Africa, while in parallel being responsible for mobilizing the resources to do so. He clearly explains that the reasons for the scarcity of Covid-19 vaccine studies in Africa are multifactorial, including awkward regulatory pathways that need to be navigated to get approvals to conduct such studies. He also points out that even though some South African scientists are involved in the clinical development of the Covid-19 vaccine pipeline, it does not necessarily guarantee immediate access to the vaccine for South Africa (or other African countries) should it be shown to be effective. It should be noted that the first clinical trial in South Africa and on the African continent for a Covid-19 vaccine was announced on the 23 June 2020. The South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial aims to find a vaccine that will prevent infection by SARS-CoV-2. The technical name of the vaccine is ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, as it is made from a virus called ChAdOx1, which is a weakened and non-replicating version of a common cold virus (adenovirus). The vaccine has been engineered to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Wits University is in collaboration with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute on the South African trial.
Another candidate vaccine in a progress is the candidate vaccine Protein subunit (PS), [SARS-CoV-2 vaccine formulation 1 with adjuvant 1 (S protein (baculovirus production)]. PS is going to be produced by Sanofi Pasteur and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Sanofi has been present in South Africa for 46 years and is ranked the number 1 multinational pharmaceutical company with the third largest local manufacturing facility in Waltloo, Pretoria. The site is recognized as a global center of excellence to produce anti-tuberculosis medicine, which is exported to 13 countries including Europe, Australia, the United Kingdom and Brazil. In addition, the site produces antibiotics, drugs for epileptic disease and medicines for the central nervous system.
- Egyptian National Research Center (NRC)
On Friday, 14th of February 2020, Professor Khaled Abdel Ghaffar the former Dean and Head of the Department of Oral Medicine, Gum, Diagnosis and Radiology at the Faculty of Dentistry of Ain Shams University, currently the minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the Islamic Republic of Egypt, confirmed the first case of novel COVID-19 in the country. Later, he confirmed that, Egypt has decided to be part of the international effort to produce a vaccine against the virus, through the scientific work of the Egyptian National Research Center (NRC) in cooperation with Vaccine Valley. Vaccine Valley is the largest biological and biosecurity integrated factory in Egypt, Middle East and Africa. The company was established in 2006 by Dr. El-Sayed Badawy, Engineer Abdul-Salam Hegazy and Engeneer Mohsen Badawy as a dedicated facility for production of different types of vaccines. Few months later during a press conference, 2nd of July 2020, Professor Ghaffar announced that the NRC has registered four new COVID-19 candidate vaccines for preclinical evaluation, the news was confirmed by the WHO the same month. On the 4th of January 2021, the Egyptian daily news reported that Vaccine Valley is on the way to produce Egypt’s first vaccine against the COVID-19. Faried Al-Sayed, Quality Assurance Manager at Vaccine Valley confirmed that the potential vaccine will be called “COVID-Vac1,” the vaccine will be available for consumption by April or May. He further clarified that, as part of safety measures taken by the scientific team behind COVID-Vac1, some of the team members were vaccinated during pre-clinical studies with the COVID-Vac1, they did not experience any side effects from the vaccine. Ahmed Al-Senoussi, Professor of Virology at Cairo University in Egypt, argues that “COVID-19 Vac1 will be safe and effective because it stimulates the immune system in the human body.”
- African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID)
On the 27th of February 2020, Nigeria confirmed its first case of COVID-19. The patient was an Italian immigrant living in Nigeria, who had just returned from Milan in Italy. During that time Italy was among the most affected countries in Europe. The case was diagnosed by the Centre for Human and Zoonotic Virology (CHAZVY), College of Medicine University of Lagos. The samples were sent to the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for genome sequencing, the ACEGID is one of the most remarkable research facilities in Africa. It is located at Redeemer University in Ede Osun State. It is under the leadership of a Harvard trained molecular biologist, Christian Happi, a professor of molecular biology and genomics. He researches the human genome as well as the genomics of infectious diseases, including malaria, Lassa fever, Ebola, yellow fever, monkeypox, HIV and recently COVID-19. In 2014, he confirmed the first case of Ebola in Nigeria and worked closely with Nigerian health authorities to successful contain the outbreak in Nigeria. He confirmed that:
“On 1 March, I drove 90 kilometers from my lab to the airport in Ibadan, to receive clinical specimens of the coronavirus from the first person in Nigeria known to have contracted COVID-19. I confirmed the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in those specimens, and my team and I sequenced the virus’s genome within 72 hours: an incredible feat.”
In early March, ACEGID, under the scientific supervision of Professor Happi, was the first research institution on the continent to sequence the genome of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. This was done using the next generation sequencing technology, within 48 hours of receiving a sample of the first case in Nigeria. Even some of the developed countries of the global North could not achieve what the ACEGID did within 48 hours. Genomes of SARS-CoV-2 have been sequenced in laboratories in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, and Uganda. In her article entitled “Strengthening Africa’s ability to ‘decode’ the coronavirus” published on the 28th of May 2020, among other thinks Sara Jerving argues that the Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale (National Institute of Biomedical Research) in DRC is contributing nearly 60% of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences from the African continent. In Article published by quartz, Uwagbale Edward-Ekpu confirms that scientists in Nigeria have developed a new vaccine candidate which they say is optimized for the African population. The vaccine has undergone a successful pre-clinical trial, it is still waiting for clinical trials. The Nigerian vaccine candidate was developed by Professor Christian Happi and his research team at the ACEGID. The vaccine is being built on the genome sequences of linages of SARS-Cov-2 circulating in Nigeria and other African countries.
- Morroco-China Partnership
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, Moroccan-Chinese cooperation has been fostered with Morocco sending aid when China was in the early stages of the virus and the People’s republic of China helping the Kingdom of Morocco with equipment to build a plant. Sinopharm vaccine, which was tested on 600 Moroccans as part of clinical trials will be produced in Morroco. The deal with Sinopharm includes technology transfer and the setting up of a production plant in Morocco. The initial deliveries will come from China, but when the plant is finished Morocco will produce the vaccine locally.
The above works send a message that contradict Nyamayangyoku claim. The paper has attempt to justify it position that African scientists were not sleeping while others were busy working days and nights to find the COVID-19 vaccine. Therefore, advice Nyamayangyoku using Professor Florence Bernault’s argument in his article “Some Lessons from the History of Epidemics in Africa.” Where she argues that: “The arrogance of wealthy, formerly colonial nations, is not only historically unacceptable, it is medically and politically counterproductive.” Mwenebyake should contemplate that Africa is neither a village nor a Country, and African Scientists have suffered a lot of epistemic injustices that is at the center of eurocentrism. Both African biomedical and social scientist researcher, caregivers, and some ordinary African people where not talking, they were and are still working day and night.
Feruzi Ngwamba is the Coordinator of the Access and Extended Curriculum Program College of Humanitie, University of KwaZulu Natal Pietermaritzburg Campus.
The views express in this peace are neither for the University of KwaZulu Natal nor for other research institutions.