African states contribute $61m to Africa CDC to fight COVID-19

By Maurice Okore

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The outbreak of COVID-19 had by May 13, 2020, been recorded in every African country, and in solidarity, the African Union (AU) countries are working together to overcome the disease.

African countries and the private sector have contributed about $61 million (sh59.6 trillion) and close to $5 million (sh18.6 trillion) in cash for the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), to acquire commodities in Africa and also from China to tackle COVID-19.

"It is important for all of us to underline the fact that people used to be very critical about the AU and its ability to move quickly, we have seen in this pandemic the sense of urgency that the AU has put on addressing the issue," said Paulo Gomes, Board Member, Africa COVID-19 response.

"So far South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Nigeria are leading the charge in manufacturing some of the commodities but I think we need to go beyond, and also to start putting in place some of the requirements in terms of trade of those commodities," adds Gomes.

He says, for example, there is no need for Nigeria to produce masks ventilation and Personal Protective Equipment's (PPE's) and can't sell them to Cameroon and vice versa.

The Africa CDC has established an online platform to enable all African countries to interact directly with the platform, to be able to order for commodities that are urgent like masks, PPEs, and ventilators

"Many countries have decided to procure some of these commodities directly from China or several middlemen. I am not sure that is the best way to get better prices. That is why this platform is quite healthy to help countries," says Gomes.

"In the context of the continental free trade agreement there has been an effort from many African countries to manufacture these commodities and to be able to also sell them to other African countries," adds Gomes who is also Co-Chair, Afro-Champions Initiative.

The AfroChampions Initiative is a set of innovative public-private partnerships and flagship programs designed to galvanize African resources and institutions to support the emergence and success of African private sector multinational champions in the regional and global spheres.

But amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, the AU and Africa CDC launched a public-private partnership with the AfroChampions Initiative, known as the Africa COVID-19 Response Fund aimed to raise an initial US$ 150 million for immediate prevention of transmission and up to US$ 400 million to support sustainable medical response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It involves pooling resources required for the procurement of medical supplies and commodities; supporting the deployment of rapid responders across the continent as well as providing socio-economic support to the most vulnerable populations in Africa.

Where more effort is needed

The pandemic is not slowing, our culture sees it as a delayed disease that is starting to pick up, says Dr. John Nkengassong, Director of Africa CDC.

The first cases of Covid-19 appeared on the African continent on exactly February 14 and 22, 2020. Uganda confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 20, 2020, and on March 22, 2020, President Yoweri Museveni issued a directive banning all flights into the country.

No passenger planes or human movement was allowed to enter or leave the country and eventually the country was locked down. Some other African countries equally effected a lockdown while others took preventive measures.

But there are limitations observed in the response task force that is the limited testing. Nonetheless, Dr. Nkengassong is happy that Africa as a continent is scaling up testing very rapidly.

As of Monday, June 8, 2020 records indicated that 2.7 million tests had been done on the continent. But where are we supposed to be?

"As a continent of 12 billion people, we would have tested 1% of our people which is about 12 million tests. So, we have tested 2.7 million people there is a gap of 10 million that we should have tested today to be ahead of the pandemic," emphasized Dr. Nkengassong.

Easing the lockdown, yet cases are increasing

Dr. Nkengassong says because of strong leadership that countries exercised in taking the appropriate measures very early on when the first case of the virus was introduced in Africa, the continent bought time and space that allowed public health measures to be put in place.

He says now that African countries are beginning to unlock economies public health measures should be intensified.

Dr. Nkengassong says African countries have to increase testing and make sure that the turnaround time is decreased.

"If you test a suspected case with Covid-19 infection, the results should not take for more than one week. It should be quick enough," he says.

Dr. Nkengassong says quick test results will also allow quick tracing of contacts that have them quarantined plus enforce other public health measures.

He also says by testing Africa is ensuring that the virus does not open a new corridor.

"We are having a war with this virus, and it is a very aggressive virus. I would like to compare this virus to HIV which Ugandans are extremely familiar with, especially the leadership President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni exercised in the early 1990s in fighting the virus. But compared to HIV, I think the coronavirus is far more aggressive," disclosed Dr. Nkengassong.

He says Africa needs to open its countries carefully using the guidelines Africa CDC published.

"These have been published in all languages and it's very clear. We need to increase our surveillance, public health measures and begin to ease lockdown in a stepwise manner. all those appropriate measures can be read in the guidelines that we published and am sure the WHO has published that as well," he says.

Dr. Nkengassong says Africa cannot remain in lockdown forever.

 "We have many other diseases going on, for example, HIV, TB, Malaria, and we need to take care of those. We should always remember that a combination of three diseases kills about 1.3 million Africans a year. So, if we lock down extensively, we risk crumbling our systems, so we need to follow those guidelines on our continent," he says.

To overcome COVID-19

Gomes says Africa need in the region of $100 billion (sh3.7trillion) minimum for the recovery from COVID-19.

"Unfortunately, we do not have a reserve currency, we do not print money like many of the big blocks have done to do their recovery. We must find a way with our resources and probably try to mobilize resources in the national markets but for sure we need the resource for recovery," he says

"If we do not do for the first time in the last 25 years we will be in recession. This is not a recession that is due in bad policy from Africa, it was an external shock, a pandemic shock, and this will, unfortunately, take us back a little bit in our movement to change the continent," he adds.

Dr. Nkengassong says: "A strong public health commitment, a bold and aggressive commitment to fight back this virus is a huge investment to the economy because that is what is costing us in our economy."

"We need both every body's input (the economic aspect). We cannot fight this pandemic without sound resources/funds to do that," he adds.

Gomes says the governance process that has been put in place with Africa COVID-19 Response Fund, including board members, secretariat, audit mechanism within the AU and external, makes sure that any money that comes income be traced on how it's spent.