Call for African Leaders to Support the Pandemic Fund

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the devastating impact that epidemics and pandemics can have on the health, security, and prosperity of Africans. It has accentuated the need for a New Public Health Order for Africa — championed by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) — not in the least because of the gross global inequities in access to medical tools including vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics, personal protective equipment, and other lifesaving medical countermeasures and supplies that have played out during this pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has also underscored the need for Africa to build more resilient health systems and collaborate across borders to be able to prevent, detect, and respond to emerging health threats while addressing ongoing health priorities. 

African civil society organizations (CSOs) have come together to urge leaders of African governments to pledge their support for the proposed new Pandemic Preparedness Fund at the World Bank and to ensure that the Fund advances the aims of the New Public Health Order for Africa through equitable and multilateral support. If well-resourced, the Fund has the potential to be a transformative new source of financing to advance Africa’s health security and to prevent the next pandemic. 

Read the full letter. If your organization is interested in signing on, please reach out to Hanna

 

State of Play Report: Pandemic Preparedness and Response in Africa

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its third year, African countries are grappling with the fallout from this multi-year crisis. The pandemic has exacerbated geopolitical, national, and social divides, setting back years of progress on health and gender equity, education, poverty reduction, and social progress. Health and social systems are strained, making us less prepared to respond to pandemics and other health crises.

Even as we look ahead, the COVID-19 crisis still looms. The pandemic underlines the urgent requirement across the continent for a New Public Health Order, championed by Africa CDC, and the need to build on lessons learned from previous epidemics.

The State of Play report from Future Africa Forum, documents lessons learned from recent epidemics, highlights challenges, and provides actionable and practical pandemic preparedness and response policy recommendations in an African context.

Read the full report.

Read the related policy brief.

 

An African Agenda for Pandemic Preparedness and Response — Policy Brief

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists into its third year, African countries are grappling with the fallout from this multi-year crisis. Widespread loss of life, enduring disability, and broader economic and social fallout of the COVID-19 crisis has made pandemic preparedness an urgent imperative. With momentum around the call for a New Public Health Order for Africa, there is a window of opportunity for substantial policy reform at national, regional, and global levels. This is a window that must not be wasted.

Developed by Future Africa ForumAn African Agenda for Pandemic Preparedness and Response — presents practical and actionable recommendations aimed at enhancing pandemic preparedness and response capabilities and capacities for African policymakers at both regional and national levels. The policy brief is anchored by the State of Play report, a systematic review of African regional policy documents and initiatives relating to pandemic preparedness and response and engagement of civil society stakeholders.

Read the full policy brief here

Statement — INB Public Hearings for a New International Instrument on Pandemic Preparedness & Response

In December 2021, the World Health Assembly (WHA) established an intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) to draft and negotiate an international instrument — supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) — to “strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.” In the decision establishing the INB, the WHA also requested the WHO to hold public hearings to inform its work and deliberations.

The first round of those public hearings took place April 12-13, 2022. In response to it, the Africa CSOs Working Group on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, convened by Pandemic Action Network and PATH, submitted the following substantive elements for inclusion in the new instrument:

  • Recognize and protect the role of regional institutions and initiatives in responding to pandemics and epidemics as central in coordination, procurement, and distribution of medical products and tools, and technical support to respective member states. Such regional institutions should work in a coherent manner with global institutions.
  • Establish and protect a global pandemic preparedness fund that involves countries across regions in its design, governance, and financing, with all countries contributing to such a fund, based on their ability to contribute. The fund should support health systems strengthening in geographies with weak health systems and should have a strong accountability mechanism.
  • Elevate and prioritize leadership for future pandemics through, for example, a Global Health Threats Council, with meaningful leadership and representation from low- and middle-income countries. This body’s role will be to map out a strategic response that works for both public and private players in the health space.
  • Prioritize and finance a globally networked surveillance and early-warning system with incentives for countries to share data on and sequence new variants and pathogens.
  • Guarantee equity in access to lifesaving tools: declaring such tools as public goods and; instituting a waiver of intellectual property rights along with immediate hands-on technology transfer for all medical products and tools during a pandemic to ensure the maximum number of lives are saved, prioritizing the most vulnerable communities.

Calling for Bold Pandemic Action at the EU-AU Summit

African and European civil society organizations (CSOs) call on leaders in advance of the African Union (AU) – European Union (EU) Summit on February 17-18, 2022, to show solidarity in ending not only the COVID-19 crisis but also responding to global epidemics including HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria and put in place mechanisms and resources to build resilience and prepare for future pandemics. It’s time for strong and sustained political will, collective alignment, and integrated end-to-end approaches. We call on leaders to adopt the following actions at the Summit:

  1. Tackle the crisis of inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and support vaccination programs
  2. Address the crisis of inequitable access to COVID-19 tools, including tests, treatments, oxygen, and PPE
  3. Invest in and strengthen the research and development (R&D) capacity in Africa
  4. Support Africa’s mRNA Technology Transfer Hub and agree to waive intellectual property (IP) for COVID-19 vaccines and other medical tools
  5. Support health systems strengthening in African countries to enable prevention, detection and response to new and existing threats
  6. Reform and strengthen multilateralism

Humanity deserves a world where every country is equipped to end the COVID-19 crisis and every country is prepared to stop infectious disease outbreaks from becoming deadly and costly pandemics. 

Read the full letter.

Organizations are welcome to sign on to the letter by Feb. 17, 2022. If your organization would like to sign on, please reach out to Aminata Wurie.

Civil Society Support Calls for Increased Quality in Dose Donations to Africa

The Africa Working Group on Pandemic Preparedness and Response supports the Joint Statement on Dose Donations of COVID-19 Vaccines to African Countries by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT), and COVAX published on November 29, 2021.

The statement draws the attention of the international community to the quality of donations of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, and other COVAX participating economies, particularly those supported by the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC).

Read the full letter here.

Announcing the Pandemic Action Network Ambassadors Program

We all feel it — the widespread desire and urgency to move on from the pandemic that has engulfed our lives for nearly the past two years. But we will only move on when the work is done and the work is far from over. COVID-19 continues to rage around the world and leaders have yet to take the bold actions needed to ensure we are better prepared and protected from future pandemic threats. In the cycle of “panic and neglect,” — defined by initial response to the crisis, but failing to act on long-term lessons and actually change the contributing factors of the crisis — we are teetering on neglect.

Pandemic Action Network was built to ensure that we not only end this crisis for everyone around the world, but to prevent the old cycle of “panic and neglect” from happening again. To achieve these goals, our partnership of over 140 diverse organizations is working to create the ongoing political will needed for action.

Numbers and research insights are helpful, but alone they are not enough to drive leaders to do what must be done to end this crisis and prevent the next pandemic. Leaders need personal reasons to act — they need to hear the personal stories, experiences, and challenges of the ongoing realities of living through this pandemic because, while many want to look at COVID in the rear-view mirror, we know that this crisis is far from over and will persist without action.

That’s why we are launching our new Pandemic Action Network Ambassadors Program.

Pandemic Action Ambassadors come in many forms — those who worked on the frontlines, parents balancing child care alongside their day job, people who have lost loved ones, people who have lost livelihoods, and those who have seen the impact of political inaction. Pandemic Action Ambassadors are people who care, people who are willing to stand up and speak up about the urgency of ending this crisis, building systems at every level to prepare humanity for future health threats, and learning the lessons of this pandemic.

We invite these people to come together and share their personal experiences to help us advance COVID-19 response and pandemic preparedness. Along with a community of other Ambassadors, you will receive monthly emails with small but impactful ways to take action, the opportunity to connect with one another and engage in critical advocacy efforts. The priority application window is open through Tuesday, November 30 at 11:59pm ET. Apply now!

Your story and your voice are key to driving the progress we so desperately need. Together, we have the power to end this crisis and prevent the next pandemic.

African Health Ministers’ Path Ahead — A Slow but Steady Fight Against COVID-19

By Nahashon Aluoka, Regional Advisor, East & Southern Africa, Pandemic Action 

Amidst Africa’s persistent third wave of COVID-19, the 71st session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa gathered Ministers of Health and leaders from across the continent. The message coming from WHO’s decision-making body was clear: solidarity is required to address COVID-19 in a region that has also been under the stranglehold of more than 50 different public health emergencies in the WHO reporting period.   

In a special session on COVID-19 response, a status report on vaccine rollout and uptake was presented, and Ministers exchanged ideas on approaches to tackle the pandemic and the post-COVID-19 recovery. Vaccines and rollout were top-of-mind. There is slow but steady progress in acquisition and deployment of vaccines. So far, more than 129 million doses have been received in the continent through multiple platforms and more than 93 million doses have been administered. 

However, the response to this crisis is beleaguered with various challenges and leaders clearly laid them on the table. These include: 

  • The magnitude of the crisis requires multi-sectoral coordination at the country level. Ministers noted that the involvement of the private sector, civil society and communities could be improved. 
  • Fragile health systems are stretched and lack adequate funding to properly respond to COVID-19 let alone other health challenges.
  • In many countries, there are also challenges of non-compliance to public health measures, i.e., mask-wearing, physical distancing, and handwashing, and low levels of vaccine confidence continues to be fueled by virulent misinformation. 
  • Weak planning and inadequate resourcing for vaccine deployment. Two countries have yet to begin vaccine rollout and inconsistent supply has resulted in uneven rollouts across the continent.


Priorities Ahead
Calls for a comprehensive and costed global action plan to vaccinate the world continue, but they have yet to be heeded. 

African leaders must continue to work in solidarity starting with a focus on planning for and effectively managing vaccine delivery. So much attention is paid to vaccine procurement but similar attention must be put on ensuring that countries and communities are ready for vaccine delivery.  

Now that the vaccine pipeline from multiple sources — including COVAX and the path-breaking efforts of the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) has increased vaccine volumes into the continent, all efforts should be made to ensure vaccines are equitably deployed and that there is zero wastage. 

With the limited availability of vaccines and the fact that vaccines don’t work alone in containing the pandemic, member states need to increase investment in creating awareness and promoting compliance to public health measures that stop the spread of COVID-19. Such campaigns must address the contextual aspects of their populations and be voiced by trusted sources on trusted channels.

Importantly, African member states must work together through the African Union to transform the current political will to develop local manufacturing capacities for vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics on the continent into a solid action plan. This pandemic has made it clear that the continent’s health security cannot, and should never, be anchored on global solidarity and goodwill and that Africa must define a new public health order driven by its regional and national institutions

 

The COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa Was Supposed to Be a Short-Term Solution: A Year Later, the Need is Still There

BY GABRIELLE FITZGERALD, CEO AND FOUNDER OF PANORAMA & CO-FOUNDER OF PANDEMIC ACTION NETWORK

Over the past year, the COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa distributed 81.6 million units of personal protective equipment (PPE) to almost 500,000 community health workers in 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa is a radically collaborative initiative that was co-founded by Pandemic Action NetworkCommunity Health Impact CoalitionDirect ReliefCommunity Health Acceleration Partnership, and VillageReach.

“All regions are at risk, but none more so than Africa.” — WHO Director General Tedros

I previously wrote about some of the strategies­­ that have been vital to the success of this initiative: we formed a loose partnership, we moved fast and there were no organizational or individual egos. As a result, between August and December 2020, CAF-Africa was the fifth largest procurement mechanism of PPE in the world.

Where are we today?

Today, we are eighteen months into the global pandemic. Last week, the World Health Organization’s Director General Tedros said, “All regions are at risk, but none more so than Africa.” And Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the organization’s lead for Africa warned: “Be under no illusions, Africa’s third wave is absolutely not over . . . Many countries are still at peak risk and Africa’s third wave surged up faster and higher than ever before.”

Sadly, the stop-gap measure we put into place a year ago is still needed, and major systemic challenges remain:

  • There is still limited visibility into PPE needs at the country and global levels.
  • There is no single regional body that quantifies cross-country PPE needs, tracks pipeline, and aggregates needs and gaps.
  •  The PPE market remains fragmented.

In order to create sustainable solutions, we believe it’s critical to:

  • Invest in strengthening the procurement options available to support countries to meet their PPE and other supply needs, during the pandemic and beyond; and
  • Continue to explore models to pool the philanthropic dollars going to medicines and supplies for health workers.

This post originally appeared on Medium

Why Masking Up Matters More Than Ever

By Gabrielle Fitzgerald, CEO and Founder of Panorama & Co-Founder of Pandemic Action Network

In May, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told vaccinated Americans they could take off their masks. Many public health officials and advocates, including the Pandemic Action Network, questioned this shift, especially as so many Americans remained unvaccinated. In response, Anne Hoen, an epidemiologist at Dartmouth College, said, “Wearing masks should probably be one of the last things we stop doing.” This statement has stuck with me. To protect the most vulnerable, the unvaccinated and actually stop the spread of COVID-19, we need to deploy all our tools until the end.

And when it comes to wearing a mask, the science is clear: masking in public can provide another layer of protection and help prevent the virus from spreading to others who aren’t protected, regardless of vaccination status.

Now two months after the CDC guidance shift, we are seeing accelerated spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant. In the U.S., every state is reporting increasing COVID-19 cases, thus demonstrating that relying on the honor system and local guidance alone is insufficient.

“Vaccines do not equal the end of the pandemic,” my Pandemic Action Network co-founder Eloise Todd shared with Forbes. “With vaccines and other precautions like face masks, we moved so close to normal. Why would we now move away from these measures?”

I agree. More than ever, it’s important that we stay focused on what can keep us all safe.

This month the Pandemic Action Network once again catalyzed our network of 130+ partners to ignite a global movement around the importance of continued masking.

With #ThanksForMasking selfies from leaders from Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, to Smita Sabharwal, WHO Director General Dr. Tedros, and Dr. Tom Frieden and key messages shared by organizations like UNICEF, Africa CDC, and 3M, this year’s World Mask Week campaign reached 250M+ people and was shared in 171 countries, or nearly 90% of countries around the world.

(Side note, if you’re interested in partnering with us to reach communities in the other 25 countries we didn’t reach, like Burkina Faso, Cyprus, and Chad, we’d love to talk!)

World Mask Week 2021 came at an absolutely critical time in the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries, like the U.S., with access to vaccines were in the process of opening up, dropping mask-wearing guidance, and ignoring the fact that the pandemic is very much not over for the majority of people around the world. In fact, countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, and many others in Africa and Latin America, are suffering some of their worst peaks of this pandemic yet. And, they are not alone, the more contagious Delta variant is sparking COVID-19 spikes around the globe, including countries with relatively high vaccination rates, such as the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

But sadly, we have moved away from consistent mask-wearing and World Mask Week was a reminder that not only should we continue to mask up, but we need clear and consistent masking guidance at the national level in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

While World Mask Week turned up the volume of this key call-to-action, there is urgent work to be done to ensure masking up is fundamental to our collective COVID-19 response. The fact is not lost on us that World Mask Week concluded the day before the U.K. celebrated “freedom day.” And, here in the U.S., Los Angeles Country reinstated an indoor masking order amidst an alarming rise in coronavirus cases.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical adviser, recently disclosed that U.S. health officials are actively considering a revision to the mask guidance. However, as of this article’s publish date, the Center for Disease Control has not updated their guidance for full vaccinated individuals. As we shared in a policy brief this month, masking still matters, and governments, businesses, and individuals all have a role to play in normalizing mask-wearing to protect those who are most vulnerable and to end this pandemic for everyone.

That’s why we’re so thankful for all of our partners who participated in World Mask Week this year and helped amplify our collective #ThanksForMasking call-to-action. And, we will continue to rally around this issue and not mask the truth when it comes to the importance of the simple and effective act of mask-wearing.

#ThanksForMasking and continue to mask up until we end this pandemic for everyone.

World Mask Week 2021 Catalyzes a Global Movement to Continue Masking Up

People, leaders, and organizations around the world rallied behind the ongoing importance of wearing a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19 and end the pandemic for all!

Pandemic Action Network, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the African Union, 3M, and more than 70 partner organizations launched World Mask Week 2021 with two goals in mind. First to unite the globe around a simple message: masking in public is still one of the best ways we can protect ourselves and others against COVID-19. The second, to show gratitude for those who have masked throughout this pandemic and continue to do so via the message #ThanksForMasking.

World Mask Week came at a pivotal time in the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Delta variant fueling Africa’s third wave, record numbers of cases in countries around the world, and increased spread from Indonesia and Bangladesh to Colombia and South Africa. The campaign was made even more relevant as the U.K. and U.S., countries with relatively high vaccination rates, debated masking guidance and reopening despite a marked increase in cases.

Over the course of one week — July 12-18 — World Mask Week met the moment.:

 

Beyond the conversation taking place on social media, Forbes published a strong piece about the importance of continued masking and featured quotes from Pandemic Action Network co-founder Eloise Todd alongside partner content. In addition, Triple Pundit made the business case for ongoing masking noting that “World Mask Week shouldn’t just be a 2020 or 2021 thing. Wearing masks has become one of the most effective ways to stall the spread of diseases, and companies seeking to check some ESG boxes would be wise to support such a global effort.”

What now?
While World Mask Week turned up the volume of this urgent issue, we still need clear and consistent masking guidance at the national level in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Pandemic Action team published a policy briefing called “Why Masking Still Matters” that includes key messaging regarding the importance of continued masking and recommendations for governments, businesses, and individuals. This document will drive Network-wide ongoing advocacy efforts to accelerate clear and consistent masking guidance.

Overall, we learned that responding with urgency is worth it. People around the world — especially those who are bearing the brunt of this raging pandemic — are eager to engage and be a voice for the importance of masking up alongside other interventions such as handwashing, physical distancing, and getting vaccinated when vaccines are available.

Thank you to all of our partners for their dedication to doing whatever it takes to keep the world safe from COVID-19. #ThanksForMasking.

For more information, visit worldmaskweek.com.

Your Pandemic Story Matters — Apply for a Pandemic Storytelling Workshop with The Moth

We’ve learned many things during the pandemic, but one is the importance of storytelling and consistent messaging. A compelling story can move people to action, while disinformation can put people’s lives at risk. This means that honing our individual ability to deliver a message can actually help end this pandemic and better prepare for, or even prevent, the next.

But, are we equipped to tell stories that will move decisionmakers to action? As policymakers and advocates respond and analyze the impact of the pandemic, we often talk about big metrics — GDP and job loss numbers — but those analyses fail to account for the individual, social, and economic impact of this global crisis.

Now is the time to sharpen our storytelling skills and amplify community-level experiences and lessons learned. The Moth, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Pandemic Action Network, are holding three free-of-charge virtual storytelling workshops to amplify community-level stories from the pandemic’s frontlines. 

If you have a passion for storytelling that can make a difference and a frontline experience from the COVID-19 pandemic, we invite you to learn more and apply.

Please note that the deadline application has passed. To stay in the loop for more opportunities this like this, sign up for our Pandemic Action Playbook. 

Call-to-Action to African Leaders: Scale Up COVID-19 Testing Now

As the world looks back on one full year of living in the COVID-19 pandemic, the response is still far from over. With only 41 million tests conducted in Africa since the start of the pandemic, and 28,030 tests conducted per million people (well below the Africa CDC-recommended optimal testing level of 75,000 tests per million people), there is an urgent need for African Union (AU) member states to scale-up testing. In spite of disruptions in the global supply chain for COVID-19 tools, including diagnostics, there has been a slow but steady increase in testing. However, the continent needs a rapid scale up of testing for better epidemiological management of the pandemic in order to keep economies open and save lives. Without sufficient testing, we are fighting the pandemic blindly.

Africa CDC and Partners Working Group on Testing, of which Pandemic Action Network is a member, has developed a letter signed by Center for Global Health Security and Diplomacy, FIND Diagnostics, PSI, Right to Health Action, and WACI Health, and three advocacy networks each composed of 100+ members (Pandemic Action Network, Global Fund Advocacy Network, and Treatment Action Group).

The call-to-action is directed to African Ministers of Health urging them to:

  • Order quality-assured antigen tests  
  • Ensure sufficient budget for procurement of antigen tests and testing this fiscal year
  • Ensure sufficient budget for procurement of lower-priced PCR tests for COVID-19 and other diseases including TB, HIV, and Hepatitis C

Read the call-to-action letter here and contact [email protected] to take part in the advocacy efforts with AU leaders.

An Opportunity for a Leap Forward: Reflections from the 34th African Union Summit

By Nahashon Aluoka

This year’s African Union (AU) Heads of State Summit (February 6-7, 2021) went virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, it was refreshing to see this important meeting happen devoid of all the pomp and color that has characterized it in the past. As anticipated, the COVID-19 pandemic, the African Union Commission (AUC) elections, and AU reforms dominated the Summit. Looking at the journey of the AU, the progressive reforms, and the continental leadership and solidarity it has cultivated—albeit with some pockets of contention in responding to different crises ranging from wars and conflicts to pandemics like COVID-19—it is time for the Union to take a leap forward.

Leadership Reassurance
While some changes in the midst of a pandemic can be scarring, the decision by the new AU Chairperson, President Felix Tshisekedi of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to appoint his immediate predecessor, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa as the champion for the COVID-19 vaccine strategy and acquisition by AU member states is reassuring. The latter has been deeply involved and spearheaded efforts at the global level to ensure that the continent accesses the required tools for COVID-19 response, including diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. It is also calming to an extent that the incumbent AU Commission Chairperson, former prime minister of Chad Moussa Faki Mahammat, who was unopposed for re-election, successfully retained his chair seat for a second and final four-year term. In a recent International Crisis Group report, Faki is highlighted for his firm focus on conflict prevention and resolution, strengthening the AU’s relations with multilateral partners, especially the UN and European Union, and his proactive leadership in coordinating Africa’s response to the pandemic.

Opportunity for a Strategic Leap Forward
Although President Felix Tshiekedi’s assumption of responsibility as the AU chair is due to the rotational nature of the role, he has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership at the national level with regard to COVID-19 response, and to help steer the continent to make a strategic leap forward in preparedness for future responses based on the stark and unpleasant lessons the continent has continued to observe with this pandemic. These include the ban on export of COVID-related tools mostly by the developed countries just after the declaration of COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organization (WHO). This action disrupted the global supply chains for life-saving tools, including diagnostics and therapeutics. Vaccine nationalism has also seen African countries being last on the queue in accessing vaccine doses despite the gallant efforts by Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDC), and other actors to acquire vaccine doses beyond the COVAX facility.

It is commendable that President Tshiekedi acknowledges the importance of enhancing investment in research and development (R&D) for the continent to be able to better deal with its challenges in responding to the current pandemic and future pandemics. He has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead at the national level to significantly invest in R&D and significantly shore up investment in COVID-19 response. Given DRC’s experiences with Ebola and the expertise at various levels in responding to outbreaks, leadership demands that President Tshiekedi ramp up testing for COVID-19 and lead preparation for vaccine roll-out. At the continental level, he has an opportunity to rally our leaders and specialized institutions to implement important continental strategies that would enhance the continent’s preparedness for future pandemics. These include the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa (PMPA), the Health Research and Innovation Strategy for Africa (HRISA), and the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA). These critical health frameworks are only useful if implemented.

Further, given the common understanding that political instability, wars, and conflict on the continent complicate response to pandemics—as was the case with Ebola in the DRC—it is important that the AU continues its razor-sharp focus on responding to, mitigating, and preventing conflicts even as it coordinates efforts to contain COVID-19. Wars and conflict-related disruptions will continue to jeopardize efforts to contain COVID-19 and ensure the health of citizens across the continent.

Read the official press release from the AU Heads of State Summit here.

Africa Mask Week Sparks Community Engagement to Keep Masking

Youth, government and public health leaders, celebrities, and people across the continent united around the importance of mask wearing to slowing the pandemic.

During the last week of November, leaders and communities across Africa rallied around an important and critical idea: Keep masking. When we wear a mask, we are protecting our friends, our families, and our communities. 

Africa Mask Week came at a critical time, when data showed COVID-19 cases on the rise, but adherence to masking and other behaviors known to stop the spread waning due to pandemic and prevention fatigue. Between November 23 and 30, 2020 the Pandemic Action Network, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the African Union Office of the Youth Envoy, the African Youth Front on Coronavirus, and Resolve to Save Lives organized the online campaign encouraging people across the African continent to wear masks and stem the spread of COVID-19. In the weeks since, the effort has sustained on social media and moved to offline fora and communities in 50 out of 54 African countries

Over the span of two weeks:

  • The campaign reached more than 299 million people with more than 187 million social media impressions and 112 million traditional media impressions across 106 countries. 
  • Preliminary results have shown an 18% increase in mask-wearing social posting activity compared to the previous period.
  • During the campaign, “community” was the most popular term in social posts, while #AfricaYouthLead was a popular tag alongside #AfricaMaskWeek.
  • The top post came from social media influencer Ihssane Benalluch, promoting mask wearing in English and Arabic.

 

This effort was driven by 75+ global, regional, national, and local partners via a social media partner toolkit with content in English, French, Arabic, Swahili, and Portuguese. Participating partners included Africa CDC, the AU Youth Envoy, Resolve to Save Lives, CORE Group, the COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa (CAF-Africa), Gavi, Global Health Corps, Global Health Strategies, the Global Health Technologies Coalition, GOAL, Goodbye Malaria, HEA Sports, Jhpiego, Last Mile Health, MSH, ONE, PATH, the Rockefeller Foundation, Southern Africa Youth Forum, Sport Connect Africa, UNICEF, UNITE, USAID, VillageReach, WHO African Region, Weber Shandwick, the World Bank, and the World Economic Forum.

The campaign launched with an Africa CDC virtual launch discussion featuring Africa CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong, AU Youth Envoy Aya Chebbi, and Pandemic Action Network Co-founder Gabrielle Fitzgerald, and has had 3.2K views to date. 

At the launch of Africa Mask Week, Dr. Nkengasong articulated the challenge, “We may be tired. We may have prevention fatigue, but I can assure you the COVID-19 virus is not tired.” Until there are vaccines or medicines to fight COVID-19, wearing a mask is one of the best tools we have, especially when combined with physical distancing and hand washing. 

But arguably the biggest success of this campaign has been its offline reach across local and regional communities, thanks to the many in-country health institutions and NGOs working at the community level to disseminate mask-wearing messaging. Groups like the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Amref Health Africa, Development Media International (DMI) and so many more have folded these messages into their public health communications and community engagement efforts, ensuring that the importance of ongoing mask-wearing is emphasized among a wider audience.

We are grateful to the energy and efforts of all of our partners, and look forward to seeing this momentum continue through the new year. When we work together and #WearAMask, we can help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.

#AfricaMaskWeek Launches to Build Continent-Wide Movement for Mask-Wearing

At a time when COVID-19 cases are increasing in a second wave in many parts of the world and people are fatigued with the public health and social measures, #AfricaMaskWeek is being launched to sustain and increase mask-wearing as a protective measure among populations in Africa.

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA, 23 NOVEMBER 2020. #AfricaMaskWeek launches today across the continent, from 23 to 30 November 2020. Led by the Pandemic Action Network, in partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the African Union Office of the Youth Envoy, the African Youth Front on Coronavirus, Resolve to Save Lives, and many other organisations, this week-long social media campaign will encourage mask-wearing across the African continent.

Until there is a vaccine or medicine, mask-wearing, handwashing and physical distancing are the best tools available to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The key to controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the absence of a vaccine is to adopt the age-old public health strategy of wearing a mask, washing your hands regularly and keeping a safe distance from others,” said Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC. “As we intensify testing and contact tracing to identify and treat infected persons across the continent, you can avoid being infected by simply wearing a mask to prevent respiratory droplets from reaching your nose and mouth.”

In August 2020, the Pandemic Action Network led over 40 organisations across the globe to observe the World Mask Week, which provided a unique opportunity to draw attention to the need for increased use of face coverings in public places and particularly in settings where physical distancing is not possible.

Over 55 partner organizations are currently working together in implementing the #AfricaMaskWeek initiative to help mobilize support and action for increased mask-wearing as an essential measure to prevent COVID-19 infection and ultimately stop the spread of the COVID-19 at the community level in African countries.

The week will feature several activities, including a virtual launch event today at 6.00 pm East Africa Time, which will feature discussions about mask-wearing and its benefits in controlling the spread of COVID-19. There will be social media campaigns and online events through the week by corporate and private entities and individuals across the continent to promote mask-wearing. Individuals will be able to show their support by sharing photos and messages about mask-wearing using the hashtag #AfricaMaskWeek.

The registration link to join the kickoff event is: #AfricaMaskWeek23Nov2020. Meeting ID 916 5711 1736 and Passcode 072567.

Recent data suggest that mask-wearing in Africa is declining while COVID-19 continues to spread. African leaders and the public must keep practicing what works to stop the spread. More than 40 African countries have enacted policies on mandatory use of masks in public, but there are challenges with compliance to those policies. Implementation has been inconsistent and, in some cases, marred by human rights violations. Furthermore, there are documented rumors, misinformation, disinformation, and stigmatization about mask-wearing. The #AfricaMaskWeek is an opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of consistent and correct mask-wearing, address misperceptions and mobilize compliance.

“Africa has the youngest population in the world. African youth are innovative, resilient and have shown unprecedented leadership before and during the response to the pandemic. The victory of this fight against the COVID-19 lies in the hands of young people that’s why I call on youth across the continent to join #AfricaMaskWeek and keep on wearing a mask. COVID-19 is still here and still being spread in Africa. Protect yourself and protect others. Let’s save our continent. Mask Up, stand up and don’t give up the fight!” said Aya Chebbi, African Union Special Envoy on Youth.

#AfricaMaskWeek reminds us to wear masks consistently and correctly to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. “#AfricaMaskWeek is a call to action for leaders and the people of Africa,” said Gabriel Fitzgerald, Co-Founder of the Pandemic Action Network. “Leaders should lead by example by consistently promoting mask-wearing and by wearing a mask in public. We must not rest or stop practicing those things that will help stop the spread of COVID-19, like handwashing, physical distancing and mask-wearing.”

For more information about #AfricaMaskWeek, please visit africamaskweek.com.

About the Pandemic Action Network
The Pandemic Action Network comprises more than 55 multi-sector member and affiliate organizations that drive collective action to help bring an end to COVID-19 and to ensure the world is prepared for the next pandemic. The network’s mission is to promote policies that save the most lives and protect livelihoods, both during this COVID-19 crisis and in future pandemics. In August, the Pandemic Network launched World Mask Week, August 7 – 14, 2020, which was kicked off by the #WearAMask social media challenge issued by WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros and engaged more than 40 global partners to reach 3.5+ billion people across 145 countries with positive messages to raise awareness about the impact of wearing a mask and encourage mask wearing

About the African Union
The African Union leads Africa’s development and integration in close collaboration with African Union Member States, the regional economic communities and African citizens. The vision of the African Union is to accelerate progress towards an integrated, prosperous and inclusive Africa, at peace with itself, playing a dynamic role in the continental and global arena, effectively driven by an accountable, efficient and responsive Commission.

Learn more at: http://www.au.int/en

About the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention
Africa CDC is a specialized technical institution of the African Union that strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes. Learn more at: http://www.africacdc.org.

CONTACTS:

Pandemic Action Network
Autumn Lerner (US)
[email protected]
+1-206-234-1156

Krystle Lai (UK)
[email protected]
+44-7425-517326

Africa CDC
James Ayodele
[email protected]
+251953912454

Africa Mask Week Rallies Continent to Continue Wearing Masks to Stop COVID-19

Cases of and deaths from COVID-19 are on the rise in Africa, nearing 2M and surpassing 46K, respectively as of the date of this blog. Despite the increasing spread, there is a low perception of both the risk of contracting the virus and of the severity of the disease, particularly among young people. But communities across the continent have demonstrated great resilience in the face of economic and epidemiological uncertainty over the last several months. It is crucial that this momentum continues until COVID-19 is brought under control.

To fuel that momentum, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the African Union Office of the Youth Envoy, the African Youth Front on Coronavirus, Resolve to Save Lives, and Pandemic Action Network are teaming up with more than 75 partners to launch Africa Mask Week – November 23-30, 2020. Building off of the success and learnings of World Mask Week, Africa Mask Week is a social media campaign focused on increasing and encouraging proper mask-wearing across the African continent, especially among young people. We are engaging influencers in sports, politics, and within local communities to champion the effort and lead by example and #WearAMask, and working with dozens of organizations around the world and on the continent to get the message out.

Africa Mask Week is a reminder that we must continue to wear masks to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. The campaign is a call-to-action to the public to continue masking to protect themselves and their communities and a call-to-action to leaders and influencers to lead by example by practicing and promoting consistent mask-wearing. With your help, we can lay the foundation for pro-masking messages and behaviors to be carried through Africa Mask Week and beyond.

Lend your voice and help us spread the word!

Here’s how you can get involved throughout Africa Mask Week, November 23-30:

  • Adapt and share content across platforms using our sample social media posts from our social media and communications toolkit.
  • Highlight your involvement throughout the week by using the hashtag #AfricaMaskWeek.
  • Follow, retweet, share or like content from the Network.
  • Create your own content with people across your organization who are wearing masks during #AfricaMaskWeek and beyond.
  • Take a selfie of yourself wearing a face covering that covers your nose and mouth. Get creative with fabric patterns and designs – we want to see how you style your mask!
  • If you can, tag the Pandemic Action Network in your custom posts and we will amplify with partners and through our social channels.
  • Make it personal: Issue a #WearAMask challenge to your followers by posting a photo tagged #WearAMask #AfricaMaskWeek and tag friends to do the same!

 

It’s Time for Africa Mask Week

By Nahashon Alouka, Regional Advisor for East and South Africa, Pandemic Action Network

As the world continues to be ravaged by the novel coronavirus, Africa has not been spared. With current cases exceeding 1.8 million and 43,000 deaths, Africa may have not yet suffered the exponential spread of infection as initially feared by many, but we are not out of the woods. If the recent alarming rises in cases in other parts of the world are any indicator for future risk and as more countries on the continent begin to report high daily infection rates, now is the time to be vigilant to protect our communities.

That’s why the Pandemic Action Network, together with Africa CDC, the Office of the AU Youth Envoy, Resolve to Save Lives, and 55+ partner organizations are launching Africa Mask Week from November 23-30 to accelerate and sustain mask-wearing to help stop the spread of COVID-19 on the continent. Africa Mask Week will rally a social media movement of leaders and people to share and show that when we wear a mask, we are protecting our friends, our families, and our communities. 

Africa Mask Week aims to engage people across the continent with the support of the Risk Communication and Community Engagement Working Group and many other national partners. The campaign seeks to further awareness and understanding of the risks associated with COVID-19, influence increased adoption of mask-wearing as the new normal, encourage effective formulation and enforcement of policies on mandatory use of masks in public places, and influence policymakers to model proper masking behavior.

Until there are vaccines or medicines to fight COVID-19, wearing a mask is one of the best tools we have, especially when combined with physical distancing and hand washing. Overall, mask use in Africa is declining, but the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. We need leaders and the public to keep practicing what works to stop the spread. “COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the transfer of droplets. As the pandemic continues to gain momentum in Africa, we must increase compliance to the public health and social measures so we can protect ourselves and protect our economy. We must increase mass wearing of masks as we expand testing and treatment services,” said Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC.

Today, more than 40 African countries have enacted policies on mandatory use of masks in public. The implementation has, however, been inconsistent and, in some cases, marred by human rights violations. Furthermore, there are documented rumors, untruths, and stigmatization of those who wear masks.

Africa Mask Week is an opportunity to turn the tide on inconsistent masking and misperceptions. Recent COVID-19 KAP survey data reveals that there is a high awareness and value for masking in Africa with 84 percent of respondents saying that wearing a face mask in public when near others is “absolutely necessary”. But we know that we are not practicing masking consistently and COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. It is important that we accelerate and sustain mask-wearing on the continent to reduce the spread of infections in our communities. There is increasing evidence in support of masking:

  • Face coverings block the spray of droplets from sneezing, coughing, talking, singing or shouting when worn over the mouth and nose. They serve as barriers that help prevent droplets from traveling into the air.1,2,3
  • Since people may have COVID-19, but not know it or have symptoms, consistent mask-wearing can reduce the spread of the virus.4,5 
  • A study published in The Lancet examined data from 172 studies from 16 countries and six continents and found that face mask use could result in a large reduction in the risk of infection.6

 

Join us for Africa Mask Week – November 23-30 – by engaging your networks including policymakers, traditional and religious leaders, celebrities and other influencers, friends, and community members. Lead by example and #WearAMask to protect your community. Together we can stop the spread of COVID-19.

Contact: Autumn Lerner, Director of Communications, Pandemic Action Network at [email protected]