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The Harvard Center for Africa Studies will convene our Africa-Asia Roundtable – Pandemics: Surveillance, Preparedness, and Response on May 18 – 19, 2021 from 7:00a – 9:00a EST / 1:00p – 3:00p CAT / 4:30p – 6:30p IST / 7:00p – 9:00p CST.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a global focus on pandemic surveillance, preparedness, and response. As a result of the 2014 – 2016 Ebola outbreak, the World Bank invested in the Regional Disease Surveillance Systems Enhancement (REDISSE) Program. Thirteen countries in West and Central Africa have received a $200 million funding commitment “to prevent, detect, and respond to the threat of emerging and epidemic-prone diseases.” In addition to funding, the program has provided for intra-country cooperation on detecting and preventing pandemics as well as regional lab networks and training opportunities. More recently, the Africa CDC has spearheaded continental efforts to advance various elements of detection and response to various health threats, with notable success related to COVID-19. Such programs are examples of how regional and global cooperation designed to respond to an infectious disease outbreak can be leveraged in future pandemics.
China has promised the delivery of its Sinopharm vaccine to countries in Africa, with 200,000 doses arriving in Senegal and another 200,000 in Zimbabwe. While the commitments fall far short of the 1.4 billion doses that will be needed to reach herd immunity in Africa, China’s vaccine distribution has moved alongside the WHO-endorsed COVAX plan (to which China will also contribute 10 million vaccines). India has also been a contributor to global vaccine distribution, both through COVAX and other direct supplies to the global south, distributing more than 60 million doses. The scrambling for vaccines from the global north highlights a disparity in equitable access to vaccines, raising questions about intellectual property and the possibilities for local production.
Over two days, we will convene four panels to further explore questions around vaccines and vaccine development, technology transfer, capacity building, and global cooperation strategies for combating pandemics. What lessons can the world learn from Africa’s response to previous epidemics/pandemics including Ebola and HIV/AIDS and the current COVID-19 pandemic? What is the role of global cooperation between Africa-Asia, and China-India-Africa in particular? Is the COVID-19 crisis and response, including vaccine development and distribution, an opportunity for a new era of global cooperation?
May 18, 2021: Vaccines
7:00a Welcome and Introductory remarks
7:10a – 8:05a Panel 1– Vaccines: Discovery and Trials
The panel will explore vaccine development and the role of clinical trials held in Africa, by Africans, and on Africans as well as the generalizability of global trials of the COVID-19 vaccine in light of the spread of variants. We will discuss the clinical trials conducted globally and the contributions of African scientists and trial participants. Conducting clinical trials in Africa has also been a topic of controversy, in particular when some have suggested trials should take place in Africa due to a lack of personal protective equipment and a higher risk of infection. We will also explore whether the speed with which COVID-19 vaccines have been produced brings promise for other existing and emerging infectious diseases.
8:05a – 9:00a Panel 2 – Vaccines and Diagnostics: Production and Technology Transfer at Scale
We will begin a conversation about local distribution of globally produced vaccines and technology transfer. Once a vaccine is developed, what conditions provide for local production, and what are the barriers? China and India, for example, have made bilateral agreements with several Asian and African countries to produce vaccines for COVID-19. Compared to India and China, Africa has limited production capacity for both vaccines and diagnostics. What factors explain the lack of production capability and capacity? Dakar, Senegal is one production site developing both rapid testing and antibody testing for COVID. What are the economic and public health factors that could drive local production at scale?
May 19, 2021: Surveillance and Response
7:00a Welcome and Reflections on Day 1
7:10a – 8:05a Panel 3 – Capacity Building and the Role of Universities
We will explore the role of universities in training the next generation of scientists and health professionals who will lead the charge in discovery and translation of knowledge that is essential for addressing current and future public health challenges. Tomorrow’s pandemics require the next generation of leaders to be prepared to collaborate with peers within and across countries to navigate as yet unforeseen challenges. What have been the barriers to such collaborations? What novel and innovative approaches have been used to develop capacity building in an increasingly globalized world? The panel will discuss solutions that have been successfully implemented and can serve as models to further develop global public health leaders.
8:05a – 9:00a Panel 4 – Surveillance and Response
We will invite panelists to speak to their roles and contributions on surveillance and response and to interrogate the possibility for global cooperation on these efforts. Infectious disease outbreaks such as Ebola or COVID-19 may tax a system in the near-term, but what can be done to develop more resilient health systems in the longer-term? Surveillance and response are also linked to good governance, and, with COVID-19, we have seen the risk of an infectious disease becoming politicized. The panel will explore how healthcare and response strategies must transcend domestic politics and foster global cooperation efforts as well as successful examples of such strategies.
Sponsored by the China-Harvard-Africa Network at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Harvard University Asia Center; Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University; The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute at Harvard University; Harvard-Yenching Institute