There has been much interest in how Africa seems to have comparatively avoided the worst of the coronavirus pandemic outbreaks that have ravaged so much of the rest of the world. This is not to say that Africa is and will not suffer from the global COVID impact. The pandemic is already having what could be a long-term secondary impact in interrupting social and economic activities thereby slowing Africa’s economic growth and integration into the global economy at a point when the delayed African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is set to become operational in 2021. The global pandemic disruption delays by a year the completion of its launch which now is in 2021. Further, the disruption and slowdown of the global economy overall affect Africa. But African Academy of Sciences research shows, thus far, that the continent’s younger population age structure, pre-existing protective immune responses, comparative genetic factors and public health responses of African governments informed by past epidemic outbreaks, all combined, have contributed to a situation in which, although Africa accounts for 17% of the world’s population, reported COVID death account for only 3.5% globally.
That said, Africa seems to have managed to acquit itself fairly respectably as a demonstration of continental and regional cooperation. No small amount of this was due to the coinciding of South Africa’s assuming the chairmanship of the African Union (AU) amid South Africa itself becoming the continent’s major pandemic hotspot. This added yet one more challenge confronting President Cyril Ramaphosa, saddled as he is with putting into effect an economic recovery prior to the onset of the pandemic. As such, Ramaphosa’s establishing of an inter-ministerial ‘command council’ that imposed a phased lockdown on the country interacted with his launching of the Africa Medical Supplies Platform operating in tandem with the existing Africa Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
African Medical Supplies Platform
The launching of the Medical Supplies Platform was seen as marking “the turning point the continent needs, not only as it fights the fallout of Covid-19, but in the future too,” with Ramaphosa touting it as “the potential Amazon or Alibaba for resources to mitigate the coronavirus on the continent” as the platform has been set up as a one-stop-shop to address shortages and security of supply. The platform has pledged to ensure price competitiveness and transparency in procurement. As such, it creates an opportunity for the continent to work, post-covid, towards a lasting solution of pooled procurement, which would increase the availability of important health technologies, including drugs, vaccines and diagnostics. In short, the Medical Supplies Platform working in tandem with Africa CDC has the potential to address challenges reflecting what is emerging as a global supply chain and distribution complexities caused by the pandemic. In this regard, Africa will have to rely on building up its own infrastructure of resilience in the health sector. And in so doing, demonstrate how Africa can overcome its fragmentation in sharing and pooling sovereignty in other areas of cooperation beyond health.
In this regard, the role of the Africa CDC warrants mentions as the Pan-African centerpiece of the continent-wide infrastructure. Africa CDC was launched in January 2017 as a public health agency of the AU after being established in 2016 by the 26th Ordinary Assembly of AU Heads of State and Government with a mandate to work with member states, the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners to strengthen capacity in four strategic priority areas, including health-related surveillance and information systems; functional and linked clinical and public health laboratory networks; support for member states’ emergency preparedness and response plans; and strengthening of public health science for improved decision making and practice.
The importance of these terms of reference is that given the nature of disease outbreaks to transcend national and territorial boundaries among countries that are, in reality, more interdependent and genuinely independent, pandemic challenges like Covid-19 demand a continental and regional response. Hence, the pandemic has marked a coming of age of the African CDC augmented by the Medical Supplies Platform. Other African institutions have joined this effort as well. Along with the aid from the World Bank Group, the African Development Bank (AfDB) which works in close conjunction with the AU Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, has unveiled a $10 billion response facility to support member states and the African private and nongovernmental sector in meeting the pandemic challenge while launching a $3 billion Fight COVID-19 social bond. It is against the backdrop of this mobilization of resources and the continental and regional infrastructure reflected in the Africa CDC and Medical Supplies Platform that Africa has managed to cope with the pandemic through continental and regional cooperation.