The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), an association of five emerging economies, made one huge step forward, perhaps driven by the Covid-19 pandemic that spread across the world, to launch finally the BRICS Vaccine R&D Center on 22nd March.

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

Russia has been advocating for closer collaboration among the members, but China seems to be the fastest in taking actions concerning health related matters. Under the leadership of Russia, it first proposed cooperation on countering infectious diseases as a priority for BRICS. The final joint declaration of the 2015 BRICS summit in Ufa, Russia, contains instructions by the leaders to work consistently on managing the risk of disease outbreaks.

“We are concerned about growing and diversifying global threats posed by communicable and non-communicable diseases. It has a negative impact on economic and social development, especially in developing and in the least developed countries,” said the 2015 BRICS declaration.

Among the group, China and India are ready stepping up to share information, and experiences with BRICS members, conduct joint research and develop drugs and vaccines based on respecting each other’s sovereignty and national conditions.

Later during the rotating chairmanship of South Africa, it firmly re-proposed the creation of full-scale coordinating research and development center and planned to be located in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Nevertheless, there has not been any practical achievements in that direction. Then Covid-19 began in December 2019 and was declared pandemic the following year by the World Health Organization (WHO). As China took the helm of BRICS, effective from January 2022, experts and research analysts have since showed deep interests. Their concerns are the possibilities of multilateral cooperation, existing challenges and identifying diverse priorities, determining the levels of strength and weaknesses of BRICS.

With noticeable efforts, BRICS has consistently been pushing for diverse health initiatives, most especially vaccines to halt the coronavirus pandemic that has shattered the global economy. There are Chinese and Russian vaccines, both reported as effective and safe, and currently ramping up large-scale production.

March 22 marked the launch the BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Center, involving the heads of relevant agencies from the five countries. The initiative to establish the BRICS Vaccine R&D Center, as said earlier, was incorporated in the final declaration of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa (July 26-27, 2018).

It has brought together leading research institutions and companies in the member states – the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Brazil), the Anatoly Smorodintsev Research Institute of Influenza (Russia), the Indian Council of Medical Research (India), the Sinovac Life Sciences company (China) and South African Medical Research Council (South Africa).

The main objective is to share best practices and strengthen practical cooperation in research, development, production and distribution of vaccines to ensure their greater availability as BRICS countries account for 40% of the global population and the potential of research is at the highest level. It makes possible to swiftly respond to biological threats, coordinate efforts to control infectious diseases and ensure protection of the population.

This format is designed to develop mechanisms for the prevention, diagnosis and prompt response to new viruses, as well as to ensure timely and widespread Covid-19 vaccination.
The launch of the BRICS Vaccine R&D Center is considered as a major achievement of the five-sided cooperation, in strengthening of cooperation in the field of healthcare, in particular, through the implementation of the Russian initiative to establish the BRICS Integrated Early Warning System for preventing mass infectious disease risks, in the Chinese chairmanship of the BRICS.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has proved the importance of the development and improvement of diagnostic tools for new and recurring infections. Today, many known infections require more efforts to combat them and improve preventive tactics. It applies, first of all, to tuberculosis, HIV, and flu. We have an ambitious task of creating an effective and universal vaccine development platform,” Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko noted in his speech at the ceremony.

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin explained, during his regular media briefing on March 23, that the BRICS Vaccine R&D Center and workshop on vaccine cooperation would be a network of internet-based virtual centers, and the establishment of physical centers would only begin after comprehensive feasibility assessment.

As the BRICS Chair for 2022, China is currently hosting the 14th BRICS Summit under the theme of “Foster High-quality BRICS Partnership, Usher in a New Era for Global Development” and public health and vaccine cooperation are among the key areas of BRICS cooperation. At present, the pandemic is still dragging on across the world.

The establishment of the BRICS Vaccine R&D Center demonstrates the determination of BRICS countries to focus on vaccine cooperation, deepen public health cooperation and build a BRICS line of defense against Covid-19.

“We hope that the BRICS Vaccine R&D Center will pool the strengths of the five-member countries, further promote scientific and technological cooperation among BRICS countries, enhance the five countries’ capability of preventing and controlling infectious diseases contribute to the global fight against Covid-19 and make new contributions to international public health cooperation,” Wang Wenbin explained during the media briefing.

“We commend the efforts made by the BRICS countries to contribute to enhanced international cooperation to support the efforts of countries to achieve the health goals, including the implementation of universal and equitable access to health services, and ensure affordable, good-quality service delivery while taking into account different national circumstances, policies, priorities and capabilities,” according the joint statement.

The BRICS member countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 26% of the world’s geographic area and are home to 3.6 billion people, about 42% of the world’s population and a combined nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $16.6 trillion.