African heads of state set up anti-COVID-19 fund during unprecedented teleconference

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African heads of state and government have held their first teleconference amid coronavirus pandemic and set up a $12.5 million anti-COVID-19 fund to combat the deadly bug. They called on all African nations to contribute to the fund to wage a war against an invisible enemy taking African lives and threatening to wipe out recent economic gains on the continent.

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At least 135 people had died from coronavirus in Africa as of Sunday, up from 117 on Saturday, according to latest figures compiled by the Africa CDC and released by the African Union. About 311 people had fully recovered from the 4,368 infections, up from nearly 4000 a day earlier.

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Despite the relatively few numbers compared with the rest of the world, the Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned last week that containment was easier than mitigation.

He urged African nations to cut the spread of the virus now before it is too late.

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Ghebreyesus told African nations on Wednesday that stopping the spread of the coronavirus and preventing a sinister outcome was in “their hands”.

“The first thing they should believe is that this thing is in their hands, they can do something to stop it as early as possible,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said at his three-time a week press conference from Geneva.

“The number of cases in Sub-Saharan Africa is around 1600 as we speak,” he said, describing the low number as an “opportunity” that should be used to stop the spread of the virus before things get out of hands.

TELECONFERENCE:

With the continent looking for a coordinated response against COVID-19, President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Arica, in his capacity as Chairperson of the African Union, convened a teleconference of the Bureau of the African Union Heads of State and Government, ahead of the G20 Leaders’ Summit video-teleconference on 26 March 2020.

The Bureau of the African Union Heads of State and Government is chaired by President Ramaphosa and consists of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta of the Republic of Mali, President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta of the Republic of Kenya, President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat, and the Director of the Africa Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Dr John Nkengasong, also participated in the teleconference.

In his opening remarks, President Ramaphosa emphasized called for a continental coordinated response to arrest the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the development and spread of the COVID-19 has stretched public health systems beyond limits and caused an enormous global economic, social and humanitarian meltdown.

President Ramaphosa said poverty, poor sanitation, an existing disease burden, overstretched health systems and extreme urban population density mean the pandemic could explode in an even more catastrophic way than has been seen thus far in Africa and called for urgent actions to stem the tide.

President Ramaphosa emphasized that the AU, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and all health institutions should direct their efforts at stopping the spread of the virus.

The Bureau received a briefing from Dr John Nkengasong, the Director of the Africa Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC),l.

Dr John Nkengasong told African leaders the rapid spread of the COVID-19 was an unprecedented public health disaster.

The Bureau expressed grave concern about the rising local infections, especially with densely populated human settlements on the African continent.

As a result the Bureau underscored the importance of coordination across the continent and the necessity to exchange credible and real time information about the spread of the virus.

The Bureau agreed to establish a continental anti-COVID-19 Fund to which member states of the Bureau agreed to immediately contribute US $12.5 million as seed funding.

African Union Member States, the international community and philanthropic entities were urged to contribute to the fund.

The Bureau noted the critical role of the Africa CDC, and its under-funding and Member States of the Bureau agreed to contribute an amount of $4.5 million towards boosting the capacity of the Africa CDC.

The Bureau expressed concern about the possible shortages of medicines and vaccines as factories close or countries retain supplies for their own consumption. In this regard, the Bureau underscored the vital importance of coordinating efforts to increase global production and improve the availability of medical products and equipment.

Given the limited health infrastructure in Africa and the reality that most of the pharmaceuticals and medical supplies consumed on the continent are imported, the Bureau called on the international community to encourage open trade corridors, especially for pharmaceuticals and other health supplies.

The Bureau urged the G20 to immediately provide African countries with medical equipment, testing kits, protective gear to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the Bureau urged G20 countries to provide an effective economic stimulus package that includes relief and deferred payments. In this regard, the Bureau called for the waiver of all interest payments on bilateral and multilateral debt, and the possible extension of the waiver to the medium term, in order to provide immediate fiscal space and liquidity to governments.

The Bureau also urged the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, African Development Bank and other regional institutions to use all the instruments available in their arsenal to help mitigate against the scourge and provide relief to vital sectors of African economies and communities.

The Bureau expressed support and appreciation for endeavors of the Committee of African Health Ministers and paid tribute to the courageous efforts of all medical and health care officials on the continent engaged in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bureau urge all citizens of Africa to abide by national measures implemented to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The Member States of the Bureau of the Assembly of AU Heads of State and Government expressed their deepest appreciation to the Chairperson of the Bureau, His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa for his timely convening of the meeting in order to develop a coordinated African response to curb and reverse the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Africa.

The Bureau of the Assembly of AU Heads of State and Government agreed to remain seized of this matter.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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