Africa joins race for COVID treatment pills

Africa's top public health body is in talks with Pfizer about securing supplies of its COVID-19 treatment pill for the continent.

Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there were "really close discussions" with Pfizer over Paxlovid - which the drugmaker says is 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

"Because if we have another variant that emerges, like Omicron, and just imagine if Omicron was that transmissable and also very severe and was overwhelming our hospital systems. The only way to relieve that would be if we have the drugs like the Paxlovid where people can take that drug and stay home and get relief and that way the burden and all the constraints on the health system would be limited."

Governments around the world are scrambling to buy Paxlovid which Pfizer says data suggests retains its effectiveness against the Omicron variant.

Another treatment from Merck has faced setbacks after disappointing trial data.

Nkengasong said obtaining the drugs was one of three key approaches to tackling the pandemic - alongside scaling up vaccines and testing.

The continent has officially recorded 10 million cases, though patchy testing means the the real number is likely to be much higher.

Wealthy countries like the U.S. and Britain have secured deals to buy the treatment pills.

But there are concerns low-income countries will miss out, as was the case in the race for vaccines.

To mitigate the issue, Pfizer has put a licensing agreement in place with international public health group Medicines Patent Pool.

That will allow generic manufacturers to supply versions of the Paxlovid treatment to 95 low- and middle-income countries.

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