Op-ed: Africa and Europe, together against COVID-19 and for sustainable health security in Africa

Joint Op-ed by African Union Commissioner Amira Elfadil Mohammed and European Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen

The COVID-19 response demonstrates the importance of multilateral and continental cooperation to fight common battles for the future. The African Union and European Union, as sister continental organizations, are staunch supporters of international cooperation and multilateralism. In February 2020, the African Union received 22 EU commissioners for a joint session on shared challenges. Then on 9 March 2020, exactly two days after the EU presented its proposal for a new strategy with Africa, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

African Union Commissioner Amira Elfadil Mohammed  
African Union Commissioner Amira Elfadil Mohammed

Over the past hard year, Africa and EU capitalised on their partnership, strong ties, common values and common interests to coordinate efforts in responding to the urgent health, socio-economic and humanitarian needs caused by the impact of COVID-19. Focus has been on youth and women as population groups disproportionately affected by the crisis. Team Europe, the EU and its Member States have strengthened their partnership with the African Union, its Member States and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) by supporting implementation of the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 Outbreak.

Multilateralism and Africa’s continental approach

With the Team Europe initiative, the European Union and its Member States have already redirected €8 billion to Africa. In this way, the EU has proved its firm commitment to assist its partner countries in Africa since the first days of the pandemic while also engaging to support implementation of the continental strategy as part of efforts to strengthen health systems across the continent.

Strengthening health systems is key to defeating this pandemic but also to recovering from it. This is the only way Europe can help build sustainable societies in Africa that are well-prepared to combat any potential future threats to health security in the continent.

At the forefront of the African Union’s dynamic response to COVID-19 across the continent has been its technical agency, Africa CDC. Through concerted effort, Africa CDC has brought together relevant stakeholders across the continent to discuss ways of addressing the pandemic collectively and has fostered several partnerships within and outside the continent to respond appropriately to it, including securing timely availability of COVID-19 vaccine doses for African countries. The organisation’s excellent work and leadership during these turbulent times has been largely appreciated by both African and European institutions.

Jutta Urpilainen, the European commissioner-designate for international partnerships, spoke to reporters outside Le Berlaymont, the headquarters of the European Commission, in Brussels on Tuesday, 10 September 2019. (Anniina Luotonen – Lehtikuva) 
Jutta Urpilainen, the European commissioner-designate for international partnerships, spoke to reporters outside Le Berlaymont, the headquarters of the European Commission, in Brussels on Tuesday, 10 September 2019. (Anniina Luotonen – Lehtikuva)

A more sustained support to Africa CDC

The support by Team Europe to Africa and Africa CDC focuses not only on the current response to COVID-19, but also a longer-term capacity development support that will allow Member States to quickly and easily detect future outbreaks and for rapid prevention and response. The Team Europe approach has enabled rapid delivery of support to Africa CDC and has been effective in coordinating aid from EU and its Member States. As of December 2020, Team Europe had collectively mobilized €26.7 million of direct support to Africa CDC.

In October 2020, Team Europe concluded the first phase of the EU Humanitarian Air Bridge delivery of 7.5 tons of COVID-19 test kits donated by the Government of Germany to Africa CDC.

Looking at the longer-term partnership to strengthen health systems and capacities for preparedness and response, a pilot technical partnership between the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and Africa CDC, “ECDC 4 Africa CDC”, was launched in early December 2020. The “ECDC 4 Africa CDC” project will contribute to strengthening health security in Africa by sharing learning from EU practices and strengthening the capacity of Africa CDC in preparedness, surveillance and response to threats posed by communicable diseases.

Long-term goals for the African Union

The European Council is committed to intensifying international debt relief efforts for African countries in a coordinated manner within relevant multilateral frameworks and in support of the 2063 Agenda of the African Union. The EU is working on a broader investment package that will link the debt issue to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

COVID-19 vaccine accessibility in Africa

The EU is also investing in COVID-19 vaccine accessibility across Africa. In this regard, it has contributed to €100 million in grants and €400 million in loans and guarantees to the COVAX Facility for the direct benefit of 92 low and middle-income countries (47 of which are in Africa) through the advanced market commitments that Gavi is currently negotiating with pharmaceutical companies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated the need for a strong EU-Africa partnership to tackle the global threats that both continents currently face and will face in the future. With the upcoming EU-AU Summit in 2021, we hope to continue the dialogue on how to take the partnership to the next level.

As the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, in the coming weeks and months, African and European leaders will continue working together not only to ensure that the principle of global solidarity to defeat the disease prevails, but also to rebuild our livelihoods and economies together and have a recovery that is green, digital and fair, with women and young people receiving priority attention.

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