Category Archives: COVID19

Articles on the latest news about the Coronavirus/COVID19

AUDA-NEPAD’s COVID-19 response plan aims to improve health access and protect economies

By

KINGSLEY IGHOBOR

The African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) has launched a COVID-19 Response Plan of Action to assist African countries to improve access to sustainable and resilient health services and protecting economies. In this interview with Africa Renewal, the CEO of AUDA-NEPAD Ibrahim Mayaki discusses the scope of this initiative. These are the excerpts.

What exactly is the AUDA-NEPAD COVID-19 Response Plan of Action?

The AUDA-NEPAD COVID-19 Response Plan of Action is a comprehensive, proactive and multidimensional plan that will help tackle both the current COVID-19 challenges and the post-pandemic repercussions. It is a direct response in improving access to sustainable and resilient health services, while ensuring the protection of Africa’s economic foundations.

Aiming to cover the ecosystem that would be affected by the crisis, the response plan will mainly focus on seven thematic areas: Health Service Delivery; Human Resources for Health; Research & Development Innovation and Local Manufacturing; Education and Training; Skills and Employability; Food and Nutrition Security; and Financing.

How long will the response plan last?

It is meant to last for as long as COVID-19 exists and then three years after the pandemic. The idea is to ensure that, as long as this crisis lasts, Africa has the means and tools to fight against it and, on the other hand, anticipate the big economic losses, as well as the lessons learned for a brighter African continent.

How do you plan to implement the response?

We have set up multidisciplinary teams covering four core dimensions: data collection and analysis innovation and transfer of knowledge; implementation, and monitoring of impactful projects in the response to COVID-19; private sector engagement, and communication and advocacy.

We will need to work with our Member States and Regional Economic Communities for the implementation. Basically, we play the role of facilitator and a platform of transfer of expertise and technology from and to our Member States with the help of our traditional partners such as financial institutions, the private sector, and foundations.

For the immediate term, which areas will you focus on?

We are focusing on key thematic areas including health service delivery; capacity building for healthcare human resources; research, development, and innovation to enhance local manufacturing; education and training skills and employability; food and nutrition security; and financing.

Our Member States faced challenges in addressing the issues of shortage of vital sanitary and medical equipment, while increasing lockdowns in countries have worsened the situation. The high prevalence of endemic diseases such as HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, etc. already overstretch an important number of health systems in Africa. So, together with our Member States, we need to focus on the containment of the pandemic with aggressive preventive measures. The ultimate objective is to facilitate the construction of reliable public health systems based on the principle of shared responsibility and collective solidarity.

Any plan on the local production of medical equipment?

As the world faces a big supply crisis, Africa needs to prioritize the production of equipment for domestic markets. We have put in place an e-learning platform, including production modules and open-source licenses, to benefit manufacturers who are willing to produce vital sanitary equipment.

Also, AUDA-NEPAD is in the process of launching a platform to enhance “Made in Africa” ventilators, masks and sanitizing gels gathering all African producers and initiatives to see how they can benefit countries, either through material supply or technology transfer. We organized a very successful webinar on Monday 13 March which gathered more than 450 participants from pharmaceutical private sector companies, policymakers, philanthropists and potential investors, and was focused on the best conditions for local production.

What are your post-COVID-19 projects?

First, we are focusing on reforms of the continent’s food systems by prioritizing regional value-chains, health, and wellbeing of consumers, reducing food waste and promoting a culture of sustainable use of food.

Secondly, a focus on skills development and employment is an opportunity for national governments to reflect on prioritizing entrepreneurship and innovation.

Third, we intend to implement an intervention to provide technical support to countries to mitigate the social and economic effects of school closures during the COVID-19.

Fourth, we are prioritizing national planning and data systems, that is, making use of sound data and evidence for planning developmental programs and to mitigate unforeseen future crises such as epidemics and natural disasters.

Lastly, we hope to create the first reference system, synthesizing good practices and responses, to offer African countries the tools to respond to this pandemic, as well as anticipate future risks and threats to the tourism sector.

Is there any support for the poorest countries?

Poorest countries are a priority for the African Union and a big chunk of our portfolio of projects target them. It is à question of solidarity. We need to support the poorest countries if we want to attain the objectives of regional integration.

How does your response plan align with the AU Anti-COVID-19 Fund and the ones by the UN?

AUDA-NEPAD will play its natural role as an interconnecting platform, a technical interface between AU Member States and partners. Remember that AUDA-NEPAD, as a part of the African Union, is also connected to the AU Anti-COVID-19 Fund. Hence, I would like to emphasize the importance of having a collective response plan and to unite our efforts to act as one in this fight against the pandemic. The AUDA-NEPAD COVID-19 Response Plan of Action was based on research and initiatives of the AU and the UN.

Moreover, it is the AU leaders who created the Anti-COVID-19 Fund. I believe this concrete instrument will help tackle immediate challenges for the most-affected countries, the poorer countries and bring direct aid to the most vulnerable.

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal

 

The Secretary General- Video Message to Launch Policy Brief on Older Persons

New York, 1 May 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing untold fear and suffering for older people across the world.

The fatality rate for older people is higher overall, and for those over 80, it is five times the global average.

Beyond its immediate health impact, the pandemic is putting older people at greater risk of poverty, discrimination and isolation. It is likely to have a particularly devastating impact on older people in developing countries.

As an older person myself, with responsibility for an even older mother, I am deeply concerned about the pandemic on a personal level, and about its effects on our communities and societies.

Today we are launching a policy brief that provides analysis and recommendations to address these challenges. Our response to COVID-19 must respect the rights and dignity of older people.

There are four main messages.

First, no person, young or old, is expendable. Older people have the same rights to life and health as everyone else.

Difficult decisions around life-saving medical care must respect the human rights and dignity of all.

Second, while physical distancing is crucial, let’s not forget we are one community and we all belong to each other. We need improved social support and smarter efforts to reach older people through digital technology.

That is vital to older people who may face great suffering and isolation under lockdowns and other restrictions.

Third, all social, economic and humanitarian responses must take the needs of older people fully into account, from universal health coverage to social protection, decent work and pensions.

The majority of older people are women, who are more likely to enter this period of their lives in poverty and without access to healthcare. Policies must be targeted at meeting their needs.

And fourth, let’s not treat older people as invisible or powerless.

Many older people depend on an income and are fully engaged in work, in family life, in teaching and learning, and in looking after others. Their voices and leadership count.

To get through this pandemic together, we need a surge in global and national solidarity and the contributions of all members of society, including older people.

As we look to recover better, we will need ambition and vision to build more inclusive, sustainable and age-friendly societies that are fit for the future.

UN Peacekeepers Must Stay the Course

April 23, 2020

by Atul Khare and Jean-Pierre Lacroix

United Nations peace operations promote stability and security in some of the world’s most dangerous and fragile places. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, overstretched UN peacekeepers—civilian, military,  and police—were a thin blue line helping to protect civilians, support peace agreements and contain conflicts in hot spots and war zones across the globe.

If—or more likely when—the COVID-19 virus further spreads in countries already weakened by war and poverty, it will not only threaten the lives of the thousands, but could also tip the balance from tenuous peace back to conflict and despair. Communities recovering from conflict often live right at the survival line, every day facing poverty and the lack of basic health services. For these societies, the stakes could not be higher and the importance of UN assistance has never been greater.

To extend the global fight against COVID-19 to areas struggling to emerge from conflict, we need to continue sustaining and promoting peace and stability. Together with our partners, UN peacekeeping missions are working to achieve four objectives: (1) supporting local efforts to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, (2) keeping UN personnel safe and ensure they receive the best available care by enhancing medical testing and treatment capabilities, (3) ensuring that peacekeepers are able to continue their work without spreading the virus by practicing social distancing and other mitigation measures, and (4) advancing their difficult mandates to support peace and contain conflict even as COVID–19 spreads.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently told the Security Council, this pandemic could potentially lead to an increase in social unrest, a lapse in state authority and even violence that would greatly undermine our collective capabilities to fight the virus. For countries that have a handful of ventilators for millions of people, the possibility that one in 1,000 could contract COVID-19 and 15 percent of those could need care in an intensive care unit, is staggering. The brutal statistics of COVID-19 do not just reflect a global health crisis—they signal a fundamental threat to the maintenance of international peace and security.

We are committed to ensuring that our UN peace operations do everything they can to be an integral part of the solution to the pandemic. From the Central African Republic to Lebanon, from Somalia to Mali, our personnel continue to deliver. They are doing so bravely and with dedication, staying on the front lines even as they worry about family back home, even as air links and supply lines are stretched by the global response to COVID-19, even as cases are appearing in host countries.

The strength of our peacekeeping partnerships—whether other UN actors, NGOs, or regional organizations like the African Union (AU)—has never been more important. Despite the increasing demands on our peacekeepers to deliver their mandates, we must recognize that our partners also face the risks of this pandemic. Our peacekeeping missions offer a medical infrastructure that can support all UN personnel at risk of the virus while they continue their work. Protecting ourselves is key to being able to protect others.

We are also doing everything we can to keep our supply chains resilient. Our logistics experts have developed a business continuity plan for life-support needs, while ensuring the planning, provision, and delivery of goods and services critical for the implementation of peace mandates. Personal Protective Equipment is being made available in all our missions; we are supplying our own respiratory ventilators and ensuring that the capacity of intensive care units and supplies is sufficient to ensure that we do not strain already stretched local resources. We are also strengthening medical evacuation capabilities in close collaboration with our partners and UN member states. Strict social distancing measures are in place, and missions are reducing our “footprint” by lowering population density among uniformed personnel and civilian staff.

While our missions must protect themselves from COVID-19, they continue to reach out to local communities, protecting civilians and assisting host governments to contain the virus. Radio Okapi, the UN’s radio station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has launched a nation-wide, multilingual campaign to inform the local population about COVID-19, focusing on dispelling rumors and countering misinformation.

In Darfur, our operation is raising awareness among vulnerable groups on the importance of precautionary measures to control the spread of COVID-19, including in camps for internally displaced persons in the north and central parts of the state, where the risks of infections spreading is heightened. In Cyprus, our mission is working with women’s organizations to support those suffering from domestic violence during the quarantine.

At the same time, blue helmets continue to carry out their pre-COVID-19 tasks: protecting civilians, supporting political processes, and helping to build government capacity. In the DRC, peacekeepers recently helped free 38 civilians, including women and children, who had been abducted by an armed group in the country’s east, as they helped the national army to repel an attack. In Mali, two weeks ago, when the government decided it was important to press ahead with legislative elections, our mission provided critical logistical and operational support and helped secure polling stations on election day. In Somalia, the UN has been supporting AU soldiers and the government to develop their own COVID-19 preparedness and response plans, while working to ensure that terrorist groups do not seize the opportunity to strike while attention is focused on the pandemic. The struggle against COVID-19 may be a “second front” for the peacekeepers, but both battles continue.

Last week, the UN secretary-general decided to suspend the rotation of all our troops and police until June 30th. Such measures will keep our blue helmets on the ground, where they are needed most, and will help protect and reassure communities and UN colleagues alike by postponing the movement of thousands of personnel to and from home countries and transit points. This is a decision not taken lightly given the remoteness, hardship, and dangers often faced by peacekeepers. Staying in the field is a sacrifice for personnel who expected to return home after an arduous tour of duty. We are grateful that the countries that provide these police and military personnel have agreed to this measure so that our peace operations can maintain their operations, keeping the peace while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 contagion. We are doing everything possible to support our brave women and men, so they can keep themselves and their host communities safe.

As the UN secretary-general said when he called for a global ceasefire, there should only be one fight in the world today: our shared battle against COVID-19. For UN peacekeeping, this includes our unwavering commitment to the health and safety of our personnel and the people we serve. This is why UN peacekeepers must continue their important work. And it is why, now, more than ever, they need our full support.

Atul Khare is the Under-Secretary-General of the UN Department of Operational Support. Jean-Pierre Lacroix is the Under-Secretary-General of the UN Department of Peace Operations.

Picture credit: In Kananga, DRC, MONUSCO policewomen organized an awareness campaign against COVID-19 on April 18, 2020 in four markets in the city, in collaboration with the provincial Ministry of Gender, the town hall and the National Police.(MONUSCO/Twitter)

Together we can win the war against COVID-19

— Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC)

BY: 

KINGSLEY IGHOBOR

 Virologist Dr. John Nkengasong is the director of the Addis-based Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). It was established by the African Union to support member states’ public health initiatives and strengthen public health institutions’ capacity to detect, prevent, control and respond to disease threats and outbreaks quickly and effectively. On Thursday 26 March Dr. Nkengasong talked to Africa Renewal’s Kingsley Ighobor about COVID-19 and Africa’s response capability. Here are some excerpts:

Africa Renewal: How prepared is Africa to respond to COVID-19?

Dr. Nkengasong: We were fortunate that COVID-19 didn’t start in Africa. We had time to observe what happened in China in December 2019 and January 2020, and rapidly prepare countries to respond in key areas. One of those is diagnostics. By the second week of February, just Senegal and South Africa could diagnose COVID-19. So, in Senegal, we quickly brought together representatives of laboratories from 16 African countries, trained them and gave them diagnostic equipment. After that we conducted competency-based training in South Africa, where we also provided diagnostic equipment. Then we came back again to Senegal and trained another group. So far, we have trained representatives of laboratories from 48 countries. The cases being detected now are because of that massive effort.

What are the other areas?

The second area we focused on was infection prevention and control. We recognized that COVID-19 could overwhelm our healthcare facilities and that nurses and doctors could be affected. We cannot afford to have 3,000 doctors or healthcare workers infected, as was the case in China. So, we immediately brought representatives of 35 countries together in Nigeria and trained them on infection prevention and control. In Kenya we brought together representatives of more than 30 countries for training in enhanced airport, airline and port-of-entry screening.

Then we went to Tunisia and trained countries on communicating risk to the general public.

How is the African Union providing support?

We are using all expertise — from member states, Africa CDC and WHO — to respond to COVID-19.

At the political level, Africa CDC and the African Union Commission, under the leadership of chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat convened a meeting of all health ministers on 22 February where we agreed on the need to have a coordinated continental strategy that hinges on cooperation, collaboration, coordination and communication.

The second outcome of that meeting was the establishment of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus Preparedness and Response. The infection prevention and control part of that task force is co-led by Nigeria and Africa CDC. The laboratory part of it is co-led by Senegal, Africa CDC and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

What are the key challenges so far?

There are serious challenges in supplies. In New York, you hear the governor talk about shortages of respirators and other supplies. In Africa, we don’t manufacture these items; we import them. But now that the world is consuming a lot of what is produced, it is becoming difficult for us to obtain such items that will allow us to better prepare and respond.

What do you plan to do about this?

We have been working very hard with the office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, and the Jack Ma Foundation, who jointly launched an initiative to support African countries with a huge shipment of diagnostic equipment. I’ll call it the “marathon mission” because we have seven [Africa CDC] personnel at the airport coordinating with Ethiopian Airlines, WHO and the Ethiopian government to distribute throughout Africa about one million testing kits, six million masks, and 60,000 protective suits.

The current stock will buy us time for about two to three weeks. But in the next couple of weeks we need, as Africans, to have our own stock. Africa CDC and the AU will be heading out all over the world to stockpile massively so that we can support member states in the fight against COVID-19.

How is Africa CDC collaborating with WHO?

We are collaborating very well with WHO. I also wear a double hat as Dr. Tedros’s [Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general] special envoy for Africa on COVID-19.

We just finished a call with Dr. Matshidiso Moeti [WHO Regional Director for Africa] and two days ago, she and I discussed coordination and advocacy strategies. WHO has also played an important role in shipping diagnostic [equipment] to countries.

What information do you have regarding vaccine development and accessibility?

We are not close to a vaccine. We will be fortunate to have a vaccine in the next one to one-and-a-half years. I’m a board member of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, which was set up after the 2013 Ebola outbreak in West Africa to facilitate the development of vaccines. Within that group, I’m also on the Equitable Access subcommittee where we champion access to vaccines for vulnerable populations.

Any lessons from that Ebola outbreak?

One lesson we learned from Ebola was the importance of the deployment of young African responders. During the Ebola crisis in West Africa, we enlisted 800 in what we called the African Healthcare Volunteer Force, and we will be doing the same to address this pandemic.

As we speak, there are more than 50 responders here [in Addis Ababa] that we have brought from different countries to support our response. And we are putting some in Nigeria and others in Cameroon. We plan to escalate that very quickly.

What is your final message to Africans?

My message to Africa is that we should adhere to the continental strategy endorsed by Africa’s health ministers in February and being championed by the chair of the African Union for 2020, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

If we do not have a continental strategy that enables us to coordinate, collaborate, cooperate effectively and communicate, we are doomed. No one country can eliminate COVID-19 in Africa alone. We must demonstrate a unity of purpose and work collectively to wage and win the war against COVID-19. We don’t have a choice.

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal

 

WHO: How the lessons from Ebola are helping Africa’s COVID-19 response

BY: 

AFRICA RENEWAL

 Considerable effort is going into fighting COVID-19 in Africa and worldwide. WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti spoke with Africa Renewal about applying lessons learned from the continent’s Ebola virus disease response, as well as actions of continental and international solidarity to address the pandemic:

This is part 3 of a 3-part interview with WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti covering Africa’s preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, what WHO is doing in support of countries, lessons learned from the Ebola response and solidarity efforts underway to fight the spread of the virus.

Africa Renewal: What has the Ebola response taught Africa about how to prepare for COVID-19?

Dr. Moeti: The important lesson we learned from the Ebola outbreak, which is being applied now, is how to start work early at the community level, because communities are key at the start of an outbreak, in terms of surveillance and recognizing patterns of illness.

We have engaged the people strongly, working through community groups to disseminate information about the pattern of the coronavirus disease and how to protect oneself. We have also learned that it is important not only to tell people things, but to also listen to them and to incorporate that information into our strategies. There is a huge amount of information — some of it incorrect — circulating about this coronavirus, and we have learned from the Ebola experience to reach out; not just to send radio messages, but to talk to people and hear them.

We have also built on the capacity already put in place for the Ebola outbreak. For example, some of the laboratory testing capacity was built around the Ebola experience. We learned a lot about point-of-entry screening of people through work on Ebola and have now started a strong partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). We have learned a lot also about the rapid exchange of capacities, including those of laboratories, between countries.

In relation to the lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak, one of the things that I’m hoping will help us is testing out therapeutics even as we are using them. In carrying out clinical trials, we learned how to bring partners together. We are seeing many coalitions of technical agencies, the private sector and WHO coming together to look at therapeutics and vaccine development. I think these are some of the precious lessons that came out of the Ebola experience and will be very useful during this pandemic.

What continental solidarity efforts are under way?

At the continental level, one of the first and most important issues for us, was that diagnostic capacity was very limited in the region. At the beginning we had only two laboratories able to diagnose COVID-19 and they offered their services to other African countries. We were shipping specimens to Dakar’s Institut Pasteur and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg, who have also been training other countries.

We have seen an exchange of expertise between countries, and ministers of health networking among themselves to exchange their own experiences and offer each other ideas. I think there’s been a real openness towards providing support to each other among African countries and I’m certain that we’ll continue to see this solidarity.

And the private sector?

The private sector has also offered its services. We have seen an outpouring of support, particularly in terms of messaging from some of the communications companies. We will be partnering with them to make sure people get essential messages about how to protect themselves and others.

What are some of the international solidarity efforts under way?

We have seen real international generosity and solidarity around this outbreak. For example, the Jack Ma Foundation offered one of the most acutely needed commodities in the response: testing kits. We have also seen generosity on the part of international donors. Some, like the European Union, have offered funding particularly to low-income countries.

The World Bank has released $12 billion in funding and quite a few countries have offered financing. Foundations and pharmaceutical companies have offered their support too.

How will we know when we have COVID-19 under control and that it is safe for us all to stop social distancing?

The responses of individuals, families and households to facilitate the reduction or halt of transmission is one of the biggest adjustments [being made] and the most important part of this response. Right now, we are not certain when we will start to see the end of this outbreak. We have seen some countries, like China, emerge at the other end of the peak and we believe South Korea is on that path. They are being very deliberate in relaxing some of these restrictions. I’ve seen people in China very joyful as they came out into their gardens for the first time in the last few days, but even then, their movement is still limited.

We all need to make sure that when we open up the spaces to allow people to start moving around, we continue to carefully monitor the evolution of COVID-19 on a day-to-day basis for any new infections before we can allow life to go back to normal.

Do you have a final message?

My message is that we’re all in this together. Solidarity, sympathy, and helping and supporting each other are what’s going to bring us out of this outbreak. Starting at the individual level, I’ve been impressed to see how people have offered their time to support others. For example, where [free] movement of people is prohibited, young people have been willing to go and help elderly people get their shopping. We are starting to see more and more of this in African countries too.

People are prepared to share their knowledge and information to support each other and we’ve seen solidarity also among countries. So, for example, the fact that China was prepared to send some of its experts to a European country to help bring to bear quickly the lessons [it had] learned is the sort of international solidarity we expect to see.

One of the most important demonstrations of this solidarity, in my view, is to not only protect ourselves, but to be responsible for protecting others. So, what we have learned about not shaking each other’s hands; not greeting in certain ways; giving up going to church, even if we find that a very important part of our daily life, are demonstrations that we are thinking of other people, even as we think of ourselves. That’s the message that I’d like to leave. If governments announce measures that they think are going to make a difference, let’s not wait until we are policed or chased around to comply. It’s very important that we enforce these important practices that will help to stop the virus.

 For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal

 

How World Health Organization is helping African countries deal with COVID-19

BY:

AFRICA RENEWAL

As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread across Africa, countries are ramping up efforts to contain it. World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti spoke with Africa Renewal about the continent’s preparedness and response to the global pandemic:

This is part 2 of a 3-part interview with WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti covering Africa’s preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, what WHO is doing in support of countries, lessons learned from the Ebola response and solidarity efforts underway to fight the spread of the virus.

What is WHO Africa doing to support countries and communities in the fight against this virus?

We have worked hard, with the support of our headquarters and in partnership with many other organizations, including the African Union, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and other UN agencies, to support [African] countries. First, early on in preparation we carried out a significant amount of training for healthcare workers in surveillance, case management and laboratory diagnostics. Some capacity has also been built through WHO training.

We have also helped our member states develop national response plans. I believe almost all member states have now developed a plan, which is central to their being able to mobilize the resources needed for a good state of readiness and to enable them to respond should they have COVID-19 cases. We have sent about 80 experts from WHO to 30 countries.
We have also mobilized experts among countries to exchange expertise and help carry out such functions such as establishing an incident management system — one of the most critical [elements] because it is where all the data is put together and [through which] actions to be taken are coordinated.

We have helped many countries set up rapid response teams — so that they know exactly who has to go where, to do what — in order to make sure they are [fully prepared]. We have worked with partners and with other UN agencies to help countries prepare, recognizing that the response to this pandemic does not lie in the actions of the health sector only. We need all governments to respond and a multi-sectoral response among the UN agencies. For example, we are expecting our colleagues at UNICEF to help in risk communication and community engagement so that people get the information that they need. Then we follow up with what people are hearing and believing to make sure they take the correct measures to protect themselves.

Another example is our strong promotion of hand hygiene: hand-washing. We know that in many of our countries, water is simply not easily available — you don’t just reach out and turn on a tap. Many households don’t have running water and others may be using communal taps. We will be working with our partners to make sure that water is available. Some UN agencies, particularly now in the context of [people’s] reduced movement, have the capacity to support these logistics. They have aeroplanes and ways of moving people, equipment and supplies around. These are the partnerships that we are setting up within the UN and with bilateral agencies to support action within countries.

At the start of the preparedness activities, we procured some supplies to this work. For example, laboratory kits and equipment, as well as supplies for personal protection, including masks and gloves, and other kits meant to help protect healthcare workers and ensure they do not get infected in the course of their work on this outbreak.

How is WHO Africa working with Africa CDC on continental COVID-19 preparedness and response?

We are working a great deal with Africa CDC and with the African Union Commission, of which the Africa CDC is a technical body. We have carried out a lot of training together on the different aspects of preparedness and response; on laboratory capacity-building, testing, case management and surveillance. So, we have really worked hand-in-hand with Africa CDC.

At the political level, they have organized, and we have participated in, ministerial meetings attended by all African countries. We briefed them on the most important interventions to put in place and how to work with WHO, Africa CDC and other partners. We, in turn, organized sub-regional meetings of partners in Nairobi and Dakar for the West, Central, East and Southern African regions. Africa CDC was a very active participant in those meetings, at which we agreed how they would work with us and other UN agencies, bilateral partners and technical agencies so that we synergize our efforts. We are working very closely with them and, in fact, the director of Africa CDC [Dr. John Nkengasong] was nominated as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador for this work.

How close are we to a COVID-19 vaccine and what can be done to ensure that it is accessible to all?

A great deal of work is going on to identify a candidate vaccine that might be viable against this virus. I believe there are about 20 vaccines being tested at the moment by different researchers. Some of our experience in developing a vaccine for the Ebola virus, for example, is being used now to promote partnership and sharing of information around the development of a [coronavirus] vaccine.

Developing a vaccine, even in this fast-track mode of working, takes some time, so we don’t expect there to be a vaccine available this year, at least. But we are encouraged by the determination and the efforts being put into finding a vaccine. We need to work with the partners that traditionally ensure access to vaccines to prepare African countries to receive and use any vaccine. We work closely with the regulatory authorities in these countries, so what we can offer is linking up with them early on to make sure that there are no obstacles and delays in making the vaccine in the countries.

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal

WHO: Africa needs more kits, surveillance and case management to tackle COVID-19

BY: 

AFRICA RENEWAL

As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread across Africa, countries are ramping up efforts to contain it. World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti spoke with Africa Renewal about the continent’s preparedness and response to the global pandemic:

This is part 1 of a 3-part interview with WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti covering Africa’s preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, what WHO is doing in support of countries, lessons learned from the Ebola response and solidarity efforts underway to fight the spread of the virus.

Africa Renewal: Where is Africa in terms of preparedness and response to COVID-19? We see more countries able to test for the virus.

Dr. Moeti: I’m very encouraged by the progress countries have made overall and as far as diagnostic capacity is concerned. Several weeks ago, we only had two labs in two countries [South Africa and Senegal] where testing for novel coronavirus was available. Now 41 countries in the African region can diagnose this virus. Countries have also made progress in point-of-entry screening and establishing follow-up surveillance mechanisms. They need to expand on this so that any health worker — and more importantly people at the community level — can recognize the signs and symptoms of this illness. These are some of the capacities that have been rapidly built up.

Where is progress on the COVID-19 response needed most?

The areas most in need of progress include making sure that countries have the necessary supplies and equipment. First, we need personal protective equipment, to protect healthcare workers, and laboratory testing kits — this is very important. Admittedly, some of this is beyond the control of individual governments. We have a global-level market distortion which means some of these items are difficult to obtain.

There is also a need to improve on surveillance in many of our member states. From the point of entry, there is a need for close follow-up of people travelling from highly-affected countries. Then when people are put in isolation, including self-isolation, there needs to be some means of following up to ensure that this is actually happening. We have seen how in countries like China this was robustly policed initially until people adjusted to the idea and started to implement the measures themselves.

What about establishing COVID-19 treatment centres?

We also need better case management and the establishment of treatment centres for people with COVID-19. We recognize that most of our countries do not have enough critical care beds in intensive care units, so this can be [addressed] by creating and equipping special temporary field-type hospitals in field-type spaces. Experience in providing care is relatively limited in most African countries, so we will need to find ways of using available capacities in the most efficient way. People who have mild illness or who are infected but asymptomatic do not need to be admitted to hospital, where the beds are needed for seriously ill patients. So, clearly defining models of care, and starting with an approach that leverages the capacities for those who are critically ill, is something that, in my view, needs to be improved.

Which African countries are good examples of COVID-19 preparedness and response?

We have seen different countries manifest diverse aspects that are critical, at the political level, to a successful response. For example, some heads of state have made commitments to or have established high-level response mechanism, while others have set up commissions to coordinate their response. This has happened in countries like Kenya, South Africa and Ghana, among others. The most senior politicians – Heads of state – are being briefed on a regular basis by their ministers of health, prime ministers (who are sometimes coordinating these mechanisms) and also by our WHO country representatives.

We have also seen many countries communicating and encouraging people to take protective measures. Others have put in place measures that encourage people to self-isolate at home. Schools have been closed in South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and other countries all over the region.

For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus

Africa Renewal

 

AU study: COVID-19 could cost Africa $500 billion, damage tourism and aviation sectors

Kingsley Ighobor

About the author: is a public information officer for the United Nations, New York. He is the managing editor at the Africa Renewal.

Up to 20 million jobs in the formal and informal sectors in Africa could be lost because of COVID-19, according to a new study by the African Union.Released in early April, the study found that foreign direct investment (FDI), tourism receipts

Kingsley Ighobor

and remittance flows will also suffer significant declines as the continent tackles the pandemic. Titled The Impact of Coronavirus on the African Economy, the study modelled two scenarios, each with equal chance of being realized. Under scenario one (realistic), the pandemic will be contained within five months, inflicting minimal damage; under scenario two, the pandemic will last for eight months and countries will be severely affected.

The more optimistic scenario one projects a 2020 GDP growth of -08% while the pessimistic scenario two will result in -1.1% growth. Given that the continent’s 2020 GDP growth had been projected at 3.4%, even the optimistic scenario is a significant decline of 4.18% while the pessimistic scenario projects a decline of 4.51%.

The negative growth would be due to a “disruption of the world economy through global value chains, the abrupt fall in commodity prices and fiscal revenues and the enforcement of travel and social restrictions.”

Furthermore, a 35% dip in exports and imports would be worth $270 billion. Yet, Africa will require $130 billion to “fight against the spread of the virus and medical treatment,” stated the African Union.

Drop in oil prices

Africa will lose between 20% and 30% of its fiscal revenue, which was 500 billion in 2019, forcing governments to resort to borrowing to meet the shortfall. Commodity-dependent countries such as Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Republic of the Congo will be most affected.

The slump in oil price to below $30 a barrel, and a nosedive of the tourism and air transport sectors, will upend countries’ development agendas.

The tourism and oil sectors represent 25% of the GDPs of Africa’s top five economies—Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco. The study emphasized that, “The level of the impact of COVID-19 on these five economies will be representative for the whole of the African economy.”
Oil constitutes 90% of Nigeria’s exports and 70% of its national budget, meaning that any dip in price will have an impact on earnings. Both Nigeria and Angola, Africa’s top two oil producers, could lose up to $65 billion in income.

Effects on tourism

In South Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the countries’ main sources of income—mining and tourism. With 10.47 million arrivals in 2018, the country was second only to Egypt in tourism receipts, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Overall, tourism contributed $194.2 billion or 8.5% to Africa’s GDP in 2018.

Tourism in Morocco will take a hit too, along with its automotive industry, which represented 6% of the country’s GDP in 2019.

The study mentioned that, “Tourism employs more than a million people in each of the following countries: Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania. … and more than 20 per cent of total employment in Seychelles, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Mauritius.”
Already, Africa’s tourism and aviation sectors are reeling from the impact of COVID-19 with hotels laying off workers and travel agencies shutting down.

“Under the average [realistic] scenario, the tourism and travel sectors in Africa could lose at least $50 billion… and at least two million direct and indirect jobs.”

Top African airlines, including Ethiopian Airlines, EgyptAir, Kenya Airways and South African Airways, will be affected by travel restrictions across the world.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Africa’s air transport industry contributes up to $55.8 billion (2.6%) to Africa’s GDP and supports 6.2 million jobs. By 11 March, African airlines had lost $4.4 billion in revenue due to fallout from the pandemic.

Drop in FDI

The study estimated a drop of between -5% and -15% in FDI in Africa. Data published in 2019 by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) lists Africa’s top five FDI countries:
South Africa ($5.3 billion), Egypt ($6.8 billion), Republic of the Congo (4.3 billion), Morocco ($3.6 billion) and Ethiopia ($ 3.3 billion). In total Africa received $46 billion.

Remittance flows are also expected to decrease, crunching cash in many economies. “Remittances range as high as 23% in Lesotho and more than 12% in Comoros, The Gambia, and Liberia,” the study stated.

With advanced economies in recession, official development assistance (ODA), which many African countries rely on to finance development, will come in trickles, if at all.
COVID-19 will likely affect the launch of a free trade that was set to begin in July 2020 under the African Continental Free Trade Area. Total Africa trade for 2019 was $760 billion or 29% of the continent’s GDP. Of that amount, intra-Africa trade was just 17%.

For more information on COVID-19

Africa Renewal

Secretary-General’s message on COVID-19 and Misinformation

New York, 14 April 2020

As the world fights the deadly COVID-19 pandemic – the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War – we are also seeing another epidemic, a dangerous epidemic of misinformation.

Around the world, people are scared. They want to know what to do and where to turn for advice.

This is a time for science and solidarity.

Yet the global ‘misinfo-demic’ is spreading.

Harmful health advice and snake-oil solutions are proliferating.

Falsehoods are filling the airwaves.

Wild conspiracy theories are infecting the Internet.

Hatred is going viral, stigmatizing and vilifying people and groups.

The world must unite against this disease, too.

The vaccine is trust.

First, trust in science.

I salute the journalists and others fact-checking the mountain of misleading stories and social media posts.

Social media companies must do more to root out hate and harmful assertions about COVID-19.

Second, trust in institutions — grounded in responsive, responsible, evidence-based governance and leadership.

And trust in each other. Mutual respect and upholding human rights must be our compass in navigating this crisis.

Together, let’s reject the lies and nonsense out there.

Today, I am announcing a new United Nations communications response initiative to flood the internet with facts and science while countering the growing scourge of misinformation, a poison that is putting even more lives at risk.

With common cause for common sense and facts, we can defeat COVID-19 — and build a healthier, more equitable, just and resilient world.

Thank you.

Amid the risk of COVID-19 transmission in Zambia, some practices just have to change

By Charles Nonde, Public Information Assistant

As at 3 April 2020, Zambia had recorded a total of 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with Lusaka, the capital city accounting for 36. While the number of cases might appear low in comparison to other countries on the continent and the world at large, the message from the Government, United Nations and other stakeholders is clear – it is not time to relax!

One underlying issue which is also a threat is the spirit of “Ubuntu” vis-a-vis the ability of people to stay at home, practice physical distancing and cutting non-essential travel. This is a very big challenge. To start with, most of the people depend on public transport, walk in large groups as

Community Volunteers stick COVID-19 posters in Lusaka to encourage behaviour change, posters produced with UN support. Picture courtesy of UNICEF Zambia.

they get to various destinations or the communities in which they live have a very high population density that makes physical distancing a huge challenge. The Government, United Nations and various partners have ramped up support to spread prevention messages to the public through TV, radio and other means including digital platforms. People are encouraged to wash their hands, keep their surroundings clean, practice physical distancing, cut down all non-essential travel, among other measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 that has so far claimed about a million lives globally.

In the wake of all these measures, high density areas, streets and public transport are proving to be high risk settings and a cause of concern. Commuters have raised worry as most of the operators have refused to reduce the number of passengers on their buses to the recommended half capacity stating that they would be running at a loss. They have, instead chosen to adhere to the need to provide water and soap for people to wash their hands before boarding buses.

Another dimension is that many people depend on selling various merchandise on the streets of Lusaka to provide for their families. While the Lusaka City Council announced on 1st April 2020 that it was banning street vending and urged street vendors to move into markets dotted around the city and vending in approved areas which have the necessary measures put in place, the news has not been well received as people are worried about how they would support their families if they cannot go on the streets to trade.

A walk in many peri-urban compound settlements shows that it is ‘business as usual’ as people are continuing with their everyday lives as if there was no COVID-19 outbreak, a direct real threat on their lives. Physical distancing is an alien concept and not being practiced – a very serious concern. Some people wrongly believe that they cannot get the virus because they had not traveled out of the country. Misinformation on social media is also giving way to misdirection and a false sense of security.

The danger of COVID-19 is very clear as noted during the daily briefings by the country’s Health Minister, Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, who has indicated that the disease had now become a local transmission problem, calling on everyone in the country, especially residents of Lusaka, the epic centre, to be vigilant and follow the laid out guidelines by the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

One cannot help but wonder what more can be done to encourage communities, traders and public service transporters to ensure that people comply with the government statutory instruments and the WHO guidelines. Among many activities as part of the UN Zambia joint response is a UNICEF- supported song entitled “Together We Can” a collaboration by some of Zambia’s finest artists encouraging people to wash their hands and practice physical distancing, among other preventative measures to help prevent the spread of the corona-virus.

As stated by Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General “We are in this together” hence the need for all of us to play our part and ensure the safety of our families, communities and the world at large is safe guarded by doing our part in flattening the curve.