Leveraging Public-Private Partnership for Vaccine Acquisition and Delivery in Africa - Session 2

AFF

On Wednesday, April 14, 2021, Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) hosted the second session of its webinar series on Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships for Vaccine Acquisition and Delivery in Africa. Session two featured a discussion between executives involved in the vaccine distribution process from UPS, Aldelano, and Astral Aviation and Dr. Mercy Mwangangi, the Chief Administrative Secretary at the Kenyan Ministry of Health.

Florizelle Liser, CCA President and CEO, opened the event by emphasizing the need for collaboration between the private and public sectors. The session’s moderator, Jirair Ratevosian, Executive Director of Government Affairs at Gilead Sciences, agreed saying, “it really takes a village to develop and get vaccines into people’s arms.”

Dr. Mercy Mwangangi explained that the Kenyan government has prioritized collaborating and learning from companies with experience in transport infrastructure (such as Coca-Cola) as they weave their own vaccine distribution network. The pandemic has made Kenya “[reflect] on what it means to be self-reliant, and what it means to actually be able to deploy an intervention and do it very quickly.” Dr. Mwangangi thinks improving physical, information, transportation, and storage infrastructure, in addition to vaccine R&D and manufacturing, will require private-sector partnerships and be vital for hardening Kenya’s health system against future shocks.

Founder and CEO of Astral Aviation, Sanjeev Gadhia, further emphasized the need for improving continental distribution capabilities, noting that only four African airports have cold storage facilities and that African airlines have too few planes to ship vaccines alone. Africa is also reliant on the international COVAX program which has been slow to roll out vaccines. Only 3% of 600 million doses promised to Africa have been shipped as of April 13th. To prevent this in the future, Mr. Gadhia supported developing an African “solidarity plan to make sure that [Africa is] self-sufficient and also independent.” He sees domestic regional vaccine production, infrastructure development, information sharing, and public-private partnerships as the way to ensure the continent receives quick and equitable access to vaccines going forward.

Highlighting the importance of building private sector partnerships, Esther Ndichu, the Vice President for International Community Relations at the UPS Foundation, said that UPS has worked with vaccine manufacturers, refrigeration companies, and last-mile delivery companies like Zipline to develop the physical infrastructure necessary to deliver medicine. UPS has shared their expertise with humanitarian organizations to ensure they can effectively deliver aid. Ms. Ndichu underscored that governments should also utilize the private sector’s commercial networks and technical expertise to meet Africa’s health needs and adapt quickly during crises.

Nicole Smith, Chief Operations Officer at Aldelano Corporation, said her company did just this, altering their solar-powered agricultural cold-storage pods to function as vaccine distribution clinics. However, she also cautioned that future equitable vaccine distribution in Africa, especially to rural areas, would require preparation and private sector partnerships to develop distribution networks. In her words, “it is critical that we start preparing now for what could be the next time” to ensure all parties are able to manifest public health initiatives.