Where are our scientists when we need them?

BY NEVANJI MADANHIRE

WE are a year and a half into the Covid-19 pandemic but Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa are, like fledglings, still looking up to other countries for the supply of life-saving vaccines.

This is a disgrace considering that Africa has in the past half-century produced highly educated people who are making a difference round the globe in the field of science.

One of our own made us proud by being a leader in the development of the Pfizer vaccine in America.

Tatenda Shopera had this to say without a whiff of irony: “Today I am so proud not only of being part of Pfizer, but also for being part of the team that delivered this great Christmas present to the world. I am so proud that I am able to make an impact at a global scale.”

Twenty years ago when I joined the PR department at power utility Zesa, I was impressed by the number of electrical engineers occupying the 10-storey building called Electricity House, the Zesa headquarters, but was astonished when I quickly learnt that the country was importing mini-circuit breakers (MCBs)!

All those engineers could not put together a few wires and encase them in plastic and save the country the embarrassment of importing MCBs!

For a country now world-renowned for the delicate operation of separating Siamese twins to say that it cannot manufacture vaccines is something that boggles the mind.

I’m not a scientist; only a wordsmith, that’s why I am writing this. But I know the manufacture of generic drugs is some kind of chemical copy-and-paste.

India is well known as a vaccine manufacturer but it mostly produces generic drugs. That means it works from brand name drugs and produces copies by identifying the active ingredients in the original drug and reproducing it.

Most Covid-19 vaccines are probably still under patent and so cannot be reproduced under any guise, but China has shown that it is willing to help poor countries fight the pandemic.

Western countries have not shown the same philanthropy towards less developed countries especially in Africa.

One only has to watch a visibly angry Strive Masiyiwa describe how western countries used subterfuge to dribble past poor nations by leading them “down the garden path”.

“It’s not a question of if this was a moral failure, it was deliberate. Those with the resources pushed their way to the front of the queue and took control of their production assets.”

China should be willing to work with African countries to produce their own vaccines. This is how it is enhancing its “soft power”. I think it would be amenable to having its vaccines manufactured overseas.

The United Arab Emirates is already manufacturing Sinopharm and has rebranded it to Hayat-Vax.

Zimbabwe should be thinking of doing the same; its close relationship with the southeast Asian giant puts it in good stead.