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UPDATE 1-Aspen to partner with finance institutions to boost vaccine know-how

(Recasts with vaccine news)

JOHANNESBURG, June 30 (Reuters) - A group of global finance institutions led by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) said on Wednesday they would help to facilitate an increase in vaccine manufacturing know-how in Africa by partnering with South African pharmaceutical company Aspen Pharmacare.

As a first step, the IFC, French development institution Proparco, German development finance institution DEG and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation jointly loaned 600 million euros ($712 million) to the company.

The initiative comes days after the WHO announced setting up a technology transfer hub in South Africa to give companies from poor and middle-income countries on the continent the know-how and licenses to produce COVID-19 vaccines.

Advanced countries in North America and Europe have been criticized by scientists and politicians for hoarding vaccines, thus making it difficult for poor African countries to purchase vaccines and inoculate their citizens.

Africa currently has among the world’s worst vaccination rates, with South Africa, the region’s’ most industrialised economy, having partly vaccinated only 4% of its entire 60 million population.

“The financing will help Aspen, Africa’s largest pharmaceutical company, to refinance existing debt and strengthen the company’s balance sheet, supporting Aspen’s operations including production of vaccines, and other therapies in African and emerging markets,” the IFC said in a statement.

The four development finance institutions also have the objective of helping to facilitate an increase in vaccine manufacturing know-how and knowledge sharing within Africa by partnering with Aspen, the statement said.

Aspen is sourcing COVID-19 vaccine ingredients from Johnson & Johnson to package the vaccines in South Africa, a process known as fill and finish.

It has a contract to supply 31 million doses of the single shot J&J vaccine to South Africa and roughly 240 million to rest of Africa.

Aspen is seeking opportunities to further extend and enable COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing at its plant in eastern South Africa, Stephen Saad, Aspen chief executive, said in a statement. ($1 = 0.8429 euros) (Reporting by Promit Mukherjee. Editing by Jane Merriman and Steve Orlofsky)

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