How to help Africa during the coronavirus pandemic

Publisher’s note: Tony Blair was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007. The views expressed in this comment are his own. You can read more opinion articles at

(CNN) — It is now widely recognized that the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa is following a different trajectory than in much of the rest of the world, including the West. Although the relatively low levels of testing make it hard to see the whole picture, mortality rates have been significantly lower. Health systems, although sometimes under pressure, have not been overwhelmed. And recent serological studies suggest that while infection rates in Africa have been high, much of these infections have been asymptomatic.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, the increase in cases and the imminent threat of a second wave have made countries in Europe and Asia advance towards new restrictions and partial closures.

There are multiple hypotheses about why and how Africa has escaped the worst predictions. They range from demographics of a young population to the weather and potential resistance due to the exposure to other strains of covid. On a diverse continent, the real answer is likely to be a combination of factors. But we lack sufficient scientific evidence at this stage to draw any final conclusions.

However, if Africa has escaped the worst of the pandemic in terms of health, the same cannot be said for the economic impact of covid-19. In this area the collateral damage has been enormous.

The economic impact of the coronavirus in Africa

Foreign direct investment decreased by 40%. Some 30 million jobs are expected to be lost. And up to 49 million more Africans could be pushed into extreme poverty by losing their livelihoods in the informal sector, where they work as street vendors, taxi drivers and the like, disruptions to health services and supplies due to covid-19 are also expected to worsen overall health outcomes. Deaths from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria could increase in about half a million people.

As countries reopen, there is an urgent need to assess the scale of collateral damage caused by lockdowns, both within Africa and globally. This must be done so that leaders can make the best decisions about how to rebuild their countries’ economies.

As they do so, African leaders must uphold their commitment to containing Covid-19 by continuing to test and isolate. Here the West should show some humility and acknowledge that while the full set of factors driving Africa’s lower mortality will not be known for a while, its systems, institutions and leaders have, in many cases, made a difference. criticism.

Africa’s fight against the coronavirus

After its first confirmed case, the average sub-Saharan African country imposed stricter containment measures and did so faster than the average country in the European Union and the United States. Most African countries have also adopted comprehensive contact tracing policies. Some, such as Sierra Leone, have gone so far as to supervise the isolation of all contacts, regardless of whether they are symptomatic, for 14 days after exposure.

African governments have created and adjusted contact tracing and isolation policies that are tailored to their contexts and cultures. And they applied a key lesson from previous battles against Ebola and other diseases about the importance of ensuring community buy-in and buy-in. While this has not been done perfectly, many African governments have been far more successful in ensuring the isolation of high-risk contacts than other governments, including the UK.

Unfortunately, despite lower case numbers and, in many cases, stricter control measures than other countries on Europe’s or the UK’s safe travel lists, African countries have paid the price of disconnecting from the rest of the world. The majority of its population is being unfairly treated as a single risky entity.

The restrictions that affect the continent

EU countries and the UK have put in place 14-day quarantines and other medical travel restrictions for all passengers arriving from Africa. This with the exception of Rwanda (which is on the EU safe travel list). And also from Seychelles and Mauritius, which have safe travel corridors with the UK. (The United States does not have a common national outlook for quarantines, and the situation is less clear there.)

African economies are highly dependent on global trade and travel, whether for the import of essential goods, the implementation of critical infrastructure and relief projects, or for tourism and business travel. As a result, these measures risk exacerbating the economic damage their countries have already suffered.

Although Africa’s GDP is not expected to fall as much as that of other advanced economies, its rapid population growth, its large informal employment sector, the inability of governments to boost economic activity by increasing state spending, and weak social welfare systems they mean that their population – especially the poor – will be more impacted. This could undo a decade’s worth of development progress.

Reconnecting with the world and getting back on your feet financially will require verifiable proof of vaccination or negative tests.

It will mean ensuring equity in the development and distribution of vaccines. The COVAX initiative led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is working to ensure that African countries can have access to vaccines.

The West needs to reformulate its relationship with Africa

In addition, the current model of supplying Africa with vaccines produced elsewhere must be reconsidered. African leaders must have a role in the development of new vaccines. They must be involved in vaccine manufacturing and be able to implement the appropriate vaccination strategies for their population. The climatic and geological characteristics of places like Africa and Asia mean that they are more likely to be sources of new viral species. Therefore, investing in vaccine research and manufacturing in these places builds resilience for the entire world, not just those continents.

I have long argued that the West needs to reshape its relationship with Africa. It must move from an extractive trade and aid relationship, in which the West largely dictates the terms, to a partnership. This association should be based on developing African nations in areas such as trade and investment. In areas that add value and create jobs locally, and that improve the security of Africa. This rethinking may be one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic.

We should establish that relationship now, in the fight against covid-19, harnessing the experience, resources and energy of African countries as valued partners, not mere beneficiaries. And ensure that the continent is not left behind as the world reopens. By doing so, we would not only bring the pandemic to a more rapid and complete conclusion. We would also lay the foundation for a safer and more prosperous world.

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