During the House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting this Wednesday, African leaders and experts spoke on how the US can better aid Africa through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“African countries should be praised for their swift response to the pandemic,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass, as she led opening remarks and spoke on the health situation in Africa. “Unfortunately, resources have not been equitably shared among the population.”
The US aiding the global vaccine distribution facility co-led by GAVI and the WHO, also known as COVAX, has helped stimulate vaccine production and distribution in Africa. The African region has faced logistical challenges to providing access to people throughout the continent like storing the vaccines at the necessary 2 degrees Celsius in a special freezer.
Chairwoman Bass also highlighted that the pandemic has presented unique challenges beyond the health sector. African leaders have used the pandemic as a means to suppress voting rights, which has created political instability in the region. Families have struggled from children suffering losses in education due to school closures, women becoming more vulnerable to domestic violence, and unemployment creating stagnation in the economy.
“These problems are great and investments should not be modest,” said Congresswoman Bass. “The proper groundwork now should lead the way to a robust post-pandemic recovery.”
Dr. Donald Kaberuka, Special Envoy for the African Union, suggested that a massive stimulus from the US would improve growth in the region and bridge the gap between health and economic recovery.
“There is a perception that Africa is not being affected by the pandemic,” said Kaberuka. “But Africa’s economy is still hurting.” Africa is facing billions of dollars worth of debt and its seeking relief from the IMF to be able to fund medical supplies needed to serve people in need. Kaberuka also suggested that the US support Africa in locally producing vaccines, and ensuring intellectual property rights.
Dr. John Nkengason, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said that “this is a threat that impacts the entire world.” The emergence of variants has made the situation more dangerous, and the lack of vaccine deployment is stretching out the pandemic longer than the African economy can hold it.
Africa has had almost 4 million cases, with 107,000 deaths. Nkengason emphasized how the PEPFAR infrastructure has helped to support current medical needs and more investment like this could create sustainable initiatives for future health crises. In addition, Nkengason urged that the US help Africa expand diagnostics, monitoring, vaccine production and distribution.
“This is going to set us back by so many years if we are not careful,” said Nkengason.