In the face of Coronavirus, African Countries apply lessons from Ebola Response

Using lessons from the Ebola outbreak in 2014, African countries prepare to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus); in the aftermath of the West Africa Ebola crisis, the World Bank launched the Regional Disease Surveillance Systems Enhancement (REDISSE) Project to strengthen health systems and support effective disease surveillance 16 West and Central African countries; as of today, nearly $370 million has been approved or dispersed by the World Bank to fight COVID-19 in in 10 African countries, with more to come in the next weeks and months.

COVID-19 (coronavirus) has arrived in Sub-Saharan Africa, and governments have stepped up measures to prevent the spread of this pandemic. Over the past weeks, travelers have been screened with thermal cameras and health agents have been deployed to increase surveillance, and countries have acted swiftly to cut down flights, close schools and borders, and limit public gatherings. For many African countries that learned difficult lessons from the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014, including the Democratic Republic of Congo which now sees an end in sight in the fight against Ebola, these are familiar scenes.

Swift detection, early testing and rapid response require cross-border collaboration and strong solidarity among neighboring countries and with the international community to combat the spread of infectious diseases. The response to the 2014 Ebola crisis taught African countries what it takes to invest in more resilient health systems and more effective surveillance mechanisms to cope with epidemics. A strong response to COVID-19 will require building on these lessons together.

Together with other regional partners, the World Bank is helping countries take the necessary steps in response to this global threat. Last week, a $14 billion package of fast-track financing was approved to assist companies and countries in their efforts to prevent, detect and respond to the rapid spread of COVID-19. The package will strengthen national systems for public health preparedness, including for disease containment, diagnosis, and treatment, and support the private sector.

“Africa learned ‘what it takes’ the hard way during the Ebola crisis,” said Hafez Ghanem, World Bank Vice-President for Africa. “As COVID-19 continues to evolve, we are using all existing instruments and expertise to respond to countries’ needs while prioritizing the poorest and most vulnerable people.”

Nearly $370 million has been approved or already released by the World Bank in 10 African countries to fight COVID-19, with more to come in the next weeks and months. This complements ongoing support to strengthen countries’ health systems and regional programs to combat epidemics in Central and West African countries like REDISSE and the new Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regional project aimed at strengthening disease surveillance, prevention, and emergency-response systems across the African continent.