Guyana discusses pharmaceutical opportunities with Rwanda, Barbados

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President Dr Irfaan Ali meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday

President Dr Irfaan Ali has held fresh talks with his counterparts from Rwanda and Barbados on potentially cooperating in the area of pharmaceutical production.

The Guyanese Head of State met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, on Wednesday afternoon in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“The leaders discussed cooperation in pharmaceutical production following the disparities in COVID-19 vaccines supplied to developing countries,” a brief statement on President Ali’s Facebook page said.

Accompanying the Head of State were Guyana’s Representative to the UN, Ambassador Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, and Director of Projects at the Office of the President, Marcia Nadir-Sharma.

Wednesday’s meeting is a follow-up to initial discussions held on this matter during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Rwanda back in June. While there, President Ali had called for bold and innovative thinking to take the Commonwealth into the future.

At that biennial meeting, the Commonwealth leaders discussed the impact of conflict; the COVID-19 pandemic, including the need for equitable distribution of vaccines; and the urgent threat of climate change.

During his visit to Kigali, the Guyanese Leader was also invited to attend the ground-breaking ceremony of COVID-19 vaccine maker BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine factory in the Rwandan capital city.

The vaccine facility is expected to enable the African nation to jump-start its own vaccine manufacturing, and according to President Ali, Guyana is hoping to do the same in the future especially, since the country is aiming to become a medical hub in the Caribbean.

“Of course, for Guyana, this is the direction we want to head in. We want to be able to develop the framework and infrastructure to be able not only to build a similar facility in Guyana, but to encourage investors in research and development in the medical field as a whole to come to Guyana as a medical hub, in developing vaccines and developing a treatment for malaria, etc,” he stated at the time.

But, to achieve this, the President had noted, the “right” regulatory, legislative and institutional framework and the support of countries like Rwanda and Ghana, who have already charted the way, would be required.

To this end, it was noted that bilateral discussions on the way forward were already “on the agenda” with the two African nations.

“We can work with these countries in building our regulatory framework, our institutional framework, and developing the training facility that will ensure we have highly-skilled and capable human resources to transition into this new field, and to transition into this new area of developmental opportunity that we want to bring to Guyana,” the Head of State had said.

President Ali had reminded that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the importance of not only having access to vaccines but ensuring that every region globally is vaccine-secure. He had also highlighted the great inequality in not only the manufacturing of vaccines and the pricing, but also the distribution.

In order to combat these challenges, the President disclosed that Guyana and Barbados would be working “aggressively” together with innovators, researchers, and developers in advancing this goal.

“Well, Prime Minister Mottley and I had had some discussions already. And one of the things that we’re looking to do is to have the regulators and the Attorneys General for the countries look at our existing legal framework, look at our existing food and drugs administration, and to see how we can bridge the gap; and then to take the model out of Rwanda and Ghana, to incorporate that model in advancing our legislative framework to build a foundation that this industry can be built on,” the Guyanese Leader had said.

Such a facility in Guyana, the Head of State emphasised, would benefit the entire Caribbean Region as well as South America, and would provide access to many other vaccines utilising the technology.

“Well, it’s not only Guyana; we are an important hub: we are part of the Caribbean, we are a part of South America, we have a lot of trade agreements with a number of countries, and it is one to ensure that the region itself – Guyana and the region – has a facility that we can be dependent on in terms of crisis vaccines to respond to our own needs, to build our capacity, and also, more importantly, to make us vaccine-secure,” he posited at the time.

The President had further stated that the intention was to bring the local players in the pharmaceutical industry together in a consortium with the regional and international actors in order to generate the capacity needed. He reminded that part of Guyana’s development trajectory in diversifying the economy was to invest in the knowledge sector, and to invest in health care and education as a great export earner for the country.