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