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COVID-19: How Can China Help African Countries Have a Stake in the Race for a Vaccine?

A Chinese engineer looks at monkey kidney cells as he makes a test on an experimental vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus inside the Cells Culture Room laboratory at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing. Sinovac Biotech is conducting one of the five clinical trials of potential vaccines that have been authorised in China. NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

Six months after the emergence of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, the global effort to develop appropriate vaccines and treatments is continuing at a pace. The WHO report that there are now 125 candidate vaccines in development, including 10 in clinical evaluation. In recent weeks, there has been controversy around the need for trials of vaccinations and treatments in African countries. But the debate so far misses a major part of the puzzle – whether Africans will ever hold intellectual property rights over whatever medicine or vaccines successfully make it through trials.

The original controversy began with a live TV discussion involving two French doctors discussing how and where to conduct vaccination trials. During the discussion, they suggested that, due to lower ethical constraints, trials should be undertaken in African countries. An outcry from many commentators decrying their suggestion ensued, culminating in a condemnation from the Director-General of the WHO in an April virtual press conference.

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