Africa has responded swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as of now reported cases are lower than early pessimistic estimates. It is too early to know the full impact of COVID-19 on Africa. To date the experience has been varied. Moreover, as with other regions, there is not one homogenous narrative around the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. The pandemic is affecting African countries differently, given varied strengths and vulnerabilities. There are causes for concern, but also reasons for hope. Much hangs in the balance. Vigilance and preparedness are critical.
The global health response to #COVID19 must emphasize solidarity towards developing countries, guided by the notion of health as a global public good @antonioguterresTweet
In recent years Africans have done much to advance the well-being of the continent’s people. Economic growth has been strong. The digital revolution has taken hold. A free trade area has been agreed. But the pandemic threatens African progress. It will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.
The African Union acted swiftly, endorsing a joint continental strategy in February, and complementing efforts by Member States and Regional Economic Communities by providing a public health platform. I commend what African countries have done already, together with the African Union. Most have moved rapidly to deepen regional coordination, deploy health workers, and enforce quarantines, lockdowns and border closures.
But some countries also have a wealth of relevant lessons from dealing with previous HIV/AIDS and Ebola epidemics on engaging communities, communicating risks and adapting local and innovative methods to craft African approaches to control spread of the disease. The African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is boosting the region’s capacities by building testing capabilities, promoting knowledge-based pandemic management, and supporting governments’ efforts to mobilise resources for a sustained health response.
I continue to advocate for comprehensive debt relief for Africa. It is vital that measures to address the economic and social fall-out from #COVID19 include direct support that will keep households afloat and businesses solvent. There must be a focus on the most affected @antonioguterresTweet
While the health impact is still evolving, the indirect consequences beyond health already bring a heavy toll. These include food insecurity, lack of medical supplies, loss of income and livelihood, difficulties in applying sanitary and physical distancing measures, a looming debt crisis, as well as related political and security risks.
The global health response must emphasize solidarity towards developing countries, guided by the notion of health as a global public good. United Nations agencies, country teams, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian workers are providing support. United Nations solidarity flights have delivered millions of test kits, respirators and other supplies, reaching almost the entire continent.
We are calling for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings. African countries should also have quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment. In addition, these measures must be part of a comprehensive effort to improve the resilience and preparedness of healthcare systems that will be increasingly exposed to risks, from climate-induced natural disasters to conflicts.
I have been calling for a global response package amounting to at least 10 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. For Africa, that means more than $200 billion as additional support from the international community. I also continue to advocate a comprehensive debt framework — starting with an across-the-board debt standstill for countries unable to service their debt, followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults. It is vital that measures to address the economic and social fall-out of the crisis include direct support that will keep households afloat and businesses solvent. There must be a focus on the most affected.
Ending the #COVID19 pandemic in Africa is essential for ending it across the world. I express my total solidarity with the people and governments of Africa in tackling COVID-19 @antonioguterresTweet
While dealing with the menace of the pandemic, maintaining peace and security in Africa remains paramount. Political processes and elections in the coming months offer potential milestones for stability and peace. It will be essential for African countries to sustain their efforts to silence the guns and address violent extremism. I welcome African, and in particular the African Union Commission Chairperson’s support for my call for a global ceasefire. The response to COVID-19 needs to be “conflict-sensitive” and avoid generating new tensions. Decisions regarding planned national elections should be taken in an inclusive and consultative manner. An inclusive security approach would also ensure that the spike in violence in the home and harmful practices, such as child marriage, and sexual abuse as a result of the pandemic, are integrated through preventive measures into all response planning.
Keeping human rights considerations to the fore of COVID-19 response results in better outcomes. Citizen trust in institutions, transparency and social cohesion appear to enhance compliance with response measures. Inclusion and participation of women and youth, and respect for human rights need to be upheld in the delivery of COVID-19-related services and in the fight against the virus. Women will be central to every aspect of the response. Stimulus packages must prioritize putting cash in the hands of women and increasing social protection. We must empower African youth. Recovery from the crisis must lead to more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies.
Many difficult decisions will need to be taken as the pandemic unfolds, and it will be essential to retain the trust and participation of citizens throughout. Global solidarity with Africa is an imperative – now and for recovering better. Ending the pandemic in Africa is essential for ending it across the world. I express my total solidarity with the people and governments of Africa in tackling COVID-19.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations
This article is based on the policy brief, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Africa”, issued by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on 20 May 2020. The policy brief is available here: unsdg.un.org/resources/policy-brief-impact-covid-19-africa