While the world battles with the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the African Union (AU) Bureau’s regional coronavirus task forces, established across all five regions on the continent, will step in to tackle the crisis in Africa, which has over 7 800 confirmed cases.
AU chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa said the continent needed to act swiftly and needed to take extraordinary measures, after he was provided with an update of the pandemic in Africa during his latest conference with the AU Bureau.
He said there was consensus that the virus, if not contained, could seriously set back the African continent’s bid to try to eradicate poverty, inequality and underdevelopment in already constrained circumstances.
The regional coronavirus task forces in each of Africa’s five regions – Southern Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa and North Africa – will oversee screening, detection and diagnosis; infection prevention and control; clinical management of infected persons; and communication and community engagement.
Ramaphosa stressed that South Africa was not the only African country trying to contain the spread of Covid-19 and reiterated that many African countries had embarked on border closures, nationwide lockdowns and the roll-out of mass screening and testing programmes.
“While Africa has weak health systems and millions of people live in conditions of poverty, several countries across Africa have wide-ranging and extensive experience in managing infectious disease outbreaks and epidemics. The task forces will put this experience to good effect as we confront the current health emergency,” explained Ramaphosa.
The African Union Covid-19 Response Fund has also been established and AU Bureau members have already committed $12.5-million. Funding to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention will also be increased, with an additional $4.5-million already committed.
Rampahosa said the pandemic had affirmed, once again, that realising a continent and a world free of hunger, want and disease required collective effort.
Africa is facing a severe shortage of coronavirus test kits, medicines, face masks and other protection equipment, and the continent is in partnership with the World Health Organisation, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and various world leaders to mobilise international support for Africa, to get supplies to the continent and also increase local production of supplies in African countries.
Last week Ramaphosa held discussions with the United Nations Secretary-General, European Union Commission President and the leaders of France, Russia and Cuba. He also highlighted the continued practical support from the US, China, Cuba and Russia.
“Even as these countries struggle to contain the pandemic themselves, they are willing to support South Africa’s and Africa’s response. In uniting behind this global health emergency, as African countries we have shown once again our ability to transcend political and other differences in pursuit of a common objective. We should seize this moment to deepen collaboration across other areas, such as development or trade,” said Ramaphosa.
He explained that the AU Bureau has also proposed a comprehensive stimulus package for Africa, which will include debt relief in the form of interest payment waivers and deferred payments.
Ramaphosa said this could free up much-needed financial resources now that national budgets are being reprioritised to support the coronavirus response.
“If we continue in this positive vein, Africa will truly demonstrate it is more than capable of resolving it challenges. Through deeper collaboration, we will turn the tide against this virus, region by region, country by country,” said Ramaphosa.