Africa mobilizing to minimize losses as COVID-19 pandemic continues worldwide advance

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People living in Lagos State is Nigeria, simulate sneezing into their elbows during a coronavirus prevention campaign

From procuring test kits to promoting debt relief, the UN will stand in solidarity with Africa as it braces against the unprecedented economic, social and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Secretary-General António Guterres pledged on Wednesday.

“The crisis has wide-ranging implications”, said the UN Chief, delivering remarks at a meeting with leaders of the African Group of countries on Wednesday. “This is in no way of Africa’s making.  But as with the climate crisis, the African continent could end up suffering the greatest impacts.” 

Emphasizing the importance of solidarity to combat the pandemic, he praised Africa’s swift drafting of a coordinated, comprehensive COVID-19strategy as a demonstration of the continent’s commitment to define its own development, including the high value it places on regional cooperation and multilateralism. 

‘Africa will not be spared’ 

According to the International Monetary Fund’s latest Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa, COVID-19 is likely to cause an acute economic crisis on a continent that has often lagged behind in development, threatening to reverse hard-won gains and recent momentum.  

The IMF report projects that the region’s economic growth will shrink by an unprecedented 1.6 per cent in 2020 amid tighter financial conditions, a sharp decline in key export prices and severe disruptions to economic activity linked to the pandemic. 

“Sub-Saharan Africa will not be spared”, said Abebe Aemro Selassie, Director of the IMF’s African Department. “All indications are that the COVID-19 pandemic will exact a heavy human toll.”  

Against that backdrop, the IMF is urging African countries and their partners to boost health spending and provide social transfers to those whose livelihoods are being upended. Support from international development partners – including debt relief for the most vulnerable countries – will be crucial. 

Governments take a lead 

In line with the continent’s strategy, a range of responses are already in place across African nations, many drawing from the painful lessons learned from recent Ebola outbreaks. 

In Uganda, the Government is supporting businesses by rescheduling social security contributions.  Namibian authorities are offering emergency income grants to workers who have lost jobs.   

In Cabo Verde, new cash transfers and food assistance are available.  Egypt is among those countries that have reduced or postponed the collection of taxes. 

At the regional level, the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working to establish a special anti-COVID-19 response fund and appoint special envoys to mobilize international economic support. 

Robust support, from training to testing 

Personnel from across the UN system are building and complementing Africa’s capacity to combat the pandemic.   

Staff in peacekeeping and political missions are working to build awareness, including through mass community sensitization campaigns, trainings for civil servants and radio programmes. 

In South Africa, the UN Country Team is helping to build a new learning platform for children whose schools are closed.  In Nigeria, the team has contributed $2 million to procure essential medical supplies, including 50 ventilators, 30,000 test kits and personal protective equipment.   

Among a range of ongoing efforts, the UN Economic Commission for Africa is working with Governments in support of a debt relief package. 

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has dramatically expanded early detection capacity across the continent, raising the number of countries able to test for COVID-19, from two at the beginning of the outbreak, to 47 today.