JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday urged businesses to help fund the continent's COVID-19 vaccine rollout and asked more countries to support an initiative to waive intellectual property rules affecting vaccine production.
Ramaphosa, who currently chairs the African Union (AU), has been leading efforts to secure sufficient vaccine doses for Africa's 1.3 billion people.
South Africa has recorded the most coronavirus infections and deaths in Africa, with more than 1.4 million cases and over 41,000 deaths to date.
Ramaphosa told an AU webinar that it was a "painful irony" that some COVID-19 vaccine trials had taken place in Africa but that it was still struggling to secure doses.
"Vaccine prices are high, and many countries may not afford to vaccinate enough of their population to achieve herd immunity," he said.
Ramaphosa welcomed an offer by telecoms firm MTN to donate $25 million to the vaccine programme of the AU's disease control body to immunise healthcare workers and called on more firms to do the same.
If a push by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization to waive parts of the TRIPS agreement on intellectual property rights succeeds, African countries could benefit from technology transfer to manufacture vaccines more cheaply, he said, adding: "We need more countries to support this initiative."
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; editing by John Stonestreet and Angus MacSwan)