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Ethiopia first African country to fund vaccine coalition

The Ethiopian government is likely to be the first in Africa to commit funds to a global initiative to develop and deploy vaccines for infectious diseases.

Richard Hatchett, the CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, made the announcement during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on 22 January.

“The government of Ethiopia is preparing a financial commitment,” he told a news conference.

Hatchett said that Ethiopia wants to join CEPI as a full member, which entails making a contribution to the common funding pool.

“Ethiopia is an ambitious country, they want to build a biotechnology industry,” he said.

Hatchett said that hosting the African Union Commission and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, plus the fact that Rift Valley fever is endemic in East Africa, makes Ethiopia a natural partner.

“[Fighting epidemics] is not a problem that Western funders or rich nations can solve. It is critically important to have partners who are potentially affected by these diseases,” he said.

Ethiopia was the first African country to join the coalition in March 2018. Rwanda has subsequently also signed a memorandum of understanding with CEPI, Hatchett said.

CEPI was formed at the WEF in 2017 by Germany, Japan, Norway and funding organisations the Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Australia, Belgium, Canada and the European Commission have since made contributions. The United Kingdom committed £10 million (US$13.1m) on 22 January.

CEPI has spent US$270m on the development of 17 vaccines, targeting Ebola and Lassa Fever, among other diseases. Hatchett said that the first clinical trials were expected to begin in the next few months.

On the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, vaccine production is increasing, the Davos meeting heard.

Lydia Ogden, an associate vice-president at Merck, said the company aims to provide the World Health Organization with a stockpile of 300,000 doses of its experimental Ebola vaccine. She said that 60,000 vaccinations have been performed to date in the DRC, with the company already supplying the WHO with 100,000 vaccine doses, a total expected to reach 120,000 by the end of February.