Theme: “Exchange, and sharing experiences and best practices on National Science,

Technology and Innovation in response to COVID-19 Pandemic”

 

Her Excellency Prof Sarah Anyang Agbor, African Union Commissioner for Human

Resources, Science and Technology

 

His Excellency Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, Chairperson of the African Union Specialised Technical Committee for Education, Science and Technology, and Minister of Science,

Technology and Innovation, of the Republic of Uganda

 

Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

 

It is my privilege to deliver this statement on behalf of the Government of South Africa, representing Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, who is unfortunately unable to join us for today’s important meeting.  Minister Nzimande asked me to extend his best wishes to all colleagues.  The Minister is confident that our deliberations today will make a significant contribution to enhancing Africa’s ability to harness science, technology and innovation to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

South  Africa would in the first instance like to thank and congratulate Commissioner Agbor and Minster Tumwesigye for their leadership in convening this meeting.   We are, thus, honouring the commitments we made to each other during the Extraordinary Session of our Specialised Technical Committee held on 30 April 2020, when we agreed that African Governments should meet regularly to share information on our respective national science, technology and innovation responses to COVID-19.  I am, thus, honoured to present you today with an update on South Africa’s efforts.

 

Science, technology and innovation continues to be at the heart of South Africa’s efforts to prevent the spread of, detect, treat and defeat COVID-19.  In the first instance, our Government’s strategy and decisions continue to be based on the best possible scientific advice, which we access through dedicated advisory structures on which leading experts from various disciplines serve.   Our social scientists for example play a crucial role to advise on the socio-economic impact of different measures.   Working with our data scientists and drawing on our capabilities to collect and analyse big data, we also ensure our policy-making is robustly evidence-based.

 

Through various funding and cooperation instruments we continue to mobilize the collective capability of our National System of Innovation for the fight against COVID19.  Flagship programmes for example include: 

 

  • Expanding our national COVID-19 testing network, by adding the capabilities of various technology platforms and laboratories, such as our Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research;

 

  • Boosting South Africa’s bio-manufacturing capacities, especially with regard to molecular biology enzymes, reagents, and testing kits, to ensure national security of supply for COVID-19 testing;

 

  • Increasing our domestic production of personal protective equipment, leveraging investments in capabilities such as advanced and additive manufacturing technologies; and

 

  • Contributing to our National Ventilator Project, the systems engineering skills and experience of institutions such as the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, which leads the development of the global Square Kilometre Array (SKA.) Over time this project will see 20 000 new locally manufactured ventilators added to our health system.

 

Later today our discussions will specifically focus on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and the role of African Traditional Medicine in combating the pandemic.  I would therefore like to briefly comment South Africa’s efforts in these priority areas.

 

South African researchers are contributing actively to the global research effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.  Our Government has also availed funding to a first COVID-19 vaccine trial in our country.   We have also established a COVID-19 Vaccine Production Task Team to ensure we will be ready to manufacture as soon as it is available an approved COVID-19 vaccine in Africa.  

 

When President Ramaphosa had addressed the COVID-19 Global  Pledging Event in May, in his role as chair of the African Union, he committed that South African capacities such as those of Biovac, our national vaccine manufacturer, will be made available to ensure Africa has affordable and rapid access to a future COVID-19 vaccine.  We reiterate that commitment and will be making important investments in coming months to enhance Biovac’s capabilities for the greater benefit of Africa.

 

South Africa is convinced that our African Traditional Medicine has a crucial role to play in the fight against COVID-19 and in advancing public health more broadly.  Research and innovation programmes unlocking the vast potential of our indigenous knowledge systems, thus, require more concerted support and investment from African Governments.  

 

Several South African scientists are playing leading role in contributing to the work of the World Health Organisation to develop appropriate protocols for the governance of traditional medicine usage in the fight against COVID-19.  We must do much more to foster Pan-African research cooperation in this field and I hope today’s discussion will be a springboard for that.  South African will strongly support such efforts.

 

In conclusion, I must emphasize that international cooperation plays a crucial role to complement our national efforts.  South Africa is for example co-investing with the European Union as part of the European Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership and with China we will be launching a joint traditional medicine research programme.   

 

With partners in Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom, we have launched an Africa Rapid Grant Fund to respond to COVID-19.  With total funding of close to R100 million, the Fund administrated by South Africa’s National Research Foundation, will this year be funding more than research and science engagement projects, involving 17 different African countries.  

 

Excellencies, South Africa remains strongly committed to support the COVID-19 response programmes of the African Union.  We greatly appreciate the work of our Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.  Under the leadership of President  Ramaphosa, we also pledge to do our best to fulfil our current responsibilities as Chair of the African Union.  

 

Today, more than ever Pan-African solidarity, partnership and friendship is required.  By harnessing science, technology and innovation, infused with the spirit of Ubuntu, we will not only meet the public health challenge of COVID-19, but also ignite and accelerate rapid economic recovery, to achieve the Africa we want and our citizens deserve.  I thank you.