On December 17, the German laboratory BioNTEch confirmed the installation of an mRNA vaccine production unit in the Rwandan capital Kigali. The event was so significant that Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, made the trip to highlight the initiative. Such investment in the healthcare sector reflects the medical and health revolution underway in Africa, a transformation that SEMEN AFRICA CONSULTING supports on a daily basis.

Rwanda mRNA vaccine manufacturing plant: an example of successful investment

Biontainer-Biontech

It took just a few months from the start of discussions in June 2023 to the official announcement on December 17 of this historic $150 million investment.

This mRNA vaccine production facility, built from recycled shipping containers, should eventually employ around 100 people, on a 35,000 square meter site. This is Africa’s second mRNA vaccine plant, following an initial partnership in South Africa between biotech companies Afrigen and Biovac, supported by the WHO and the South African Medical Research Council.

Eventually, Rwanda will distribute up to 50 million doses a year to 55 African countries, with a view to preventing other diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and emerging diseases in the future.

This industrial success should serve as an example for years to come.

What are the lessons for investing in Africa's healthcare economy?

The emergence of mRNA vaccines during the Covid19 crisis gave rise to both great hopes and great fears: great hopes, because they were seen (and rightly so) as a major and promising medical breakthrough, since confirmed by the 2023 Nobel Prize in Medicine; fears, because many were convinced that this medical breakthrough would be out of reach for the African continent for at least 30 years, as the challenges in terms of production and logistics proved too complex. Two years on, the facts contradict them: the African healthcare economy has seized on this technological innovation, confirming the positive vision promoted by SEMEN AFRICA Consulting.

We believe that the establishment of this mRNA plant in Rwanda is part of a threefold dynamic that is actually present throughout the African continent:

A medical and technical dynamic, with major scientific advances all over the world, offered to the widest possible audience through technology transfer. It is likely that South Africa’s “coup de force” to produce its retrovirals locally in the 2000s was a revelation to many: the right to health is universal.

A political dynamic, because decision-makers in Africa and the rest of the world now recognize that the major challenges of tomorrow (global warming, migratory movements, the water crisis, etc.) cannot be dissociated from an ambitious and effective healthcare policy in Africa. The Kigali plant has also benefited from the “Global Gateway” program developed by the EU.

An economic dynamic in which major public organizations (UN, WHO, UNICEF…) and many governments are now investing billions, while at the same time encouraging the involvement of an increasing number of private investors. Today, 1% of vaccines administered in Africa are produced locally: this figure will rise to 60% by 2040, reflecting a real economic boom in the healthcare market across the continent.

As this Rwandan production unit proves, investing in Africa’s healthcare economy makes it possible to reconcile the economic imperatives of profitability, the technical imperatives of efficiency, and the needs of ethics. Offering autonomous care in Africa, in terms of both quality and quantity, is one of the major challenges of the years to come. Responding to these challenges will enable all investors to adopt a global and demanding approach, compatible with their economic and social responsibility, while taking full advantage of the dynamics of a fast-growing market. This plant is proof of that.

To respond to local specificities, however, support based on a holistic approach to the life of the project remains essential, in order to be reactive, assess risks, optimize medical advice and best organize the various contacts with the main local health, political and institutional players. This is SEMEN CONSULTING AFRICA’s role and ambition.

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