By Manojna Maddipatla
(Reuters) -The World Health Organization said on Wednesday it has set up a hub in South Korea to train low- and middle-income countries to produce their own vaccines and therapies, and is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine project to a further five nations.
The new training hub comes after the U.N. agency set up a technology transfer hub in Cape Town, South Africa, last year to give companies from poor and middle-income countries the know-how to produce COVID-19 vaccines based on mRNA technology.
The new hub outside Seoul will provide workforce training to all countries wishing to produce products such as vaccines, insulin, monoclonal antibodies, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing.
“Currently, bio-manufacturing training facilities are located mainly in high income countries…, putting them out of reach for many lower income countries,” he said.
The facility in South Korea is already carrying out training for companies based in the country and will now accommodate trainees from other countries, the WHO said.
The WHO also said five more countries – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Serbia and Vietnam – will receive support from its mRNA technology transfer hub in South Africa.
The countries have been vetted by a group of experts and proved to have the capacity to move to production stage relatively quickly, the WHO said.
Last week, six African countries – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia – signed up as the first on the continent to receive the technology to manufacture mRNA vaccines at scale and according to international standards.
On Wednesday, Tedros said that so far 20 countries had expressed interest in getting training on developing an mRNA vaccine by the South African hub.
The WHO said it is currently prioritising countries that do not have mRNA technology but already have some manufacturing infrastructure and capacity.
(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla and Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Josephine Mason, Mark Potter and Tomasz Janowski/Mark Heinrich)