France moves to improve medical self-sufficiency


Marcy l'Étoile (France) (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron announced Tuesday a series of measures to boost medical research, development and production on home soil to avoid the country's dependence on foreign suppliers in future health crises.

Macron detailed his plan after visiting a site in eastern France of pharma giant Sanofi, which said it would invest 610 million euros ($690 million) in a cutting-edge vaccine manufacturing and research sites in France.

He said the investment fit with a new national strategy of reducing reliance on imports while bolstering domestic industry to reactivate a pandemic-stricken economy and create much-needed jobs.

The coronavirus outbreak "showed us that we must continue to produce in our own country and on our own continent. We cannot be dependent," Macron said.

Warning there would be more health crises to come, he said the government would set aside 200 million euros for medical research, development and infrastructure.

It would also put steps in motion to bring production of critical products -- some as basic as paracetamol -- back to France.

The government will also create a mechanism to better anticipate future outbreaks, analyse medical production capacity, and minimise France's "vulnerabilities and dependencies."

The measures underscore "the importance of this independence that France must rediscover, an independence in terms of technology, industry, and health," Macron said.

At the beginning of the outbreak, which has hit France hard with more than 29,000 deaths to date, the country had to look at China for imports of face masks, and scrambled to address shortages of virus-killing hand gel as well as paracetamol for treating the fevers often suffered by COVID-19 patients.

Macron said self-reliance need not mean isolation, and stressed that countries must continue to work together to find, and distribute, a coronavirus vaccine.

"We must ensure that access to the vaccine, once it is found, be given to the largest number of people," he said.

"We must fight together against any form of withholding (of the vaccine). It would be unacceptable that this or that country, particularly less developed ones, do not have access to the vaccine," he said.