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S/Africa’s Ramaphosa says Africa working together to battle Covid-19

Africa needs to act swiftly and to undertake extraordinary measures if it is to prevail in the battle against the Covid-19 coronavirus.

This is the message from President Cyril Ramaphosa, who on Friday convened a teleconference of the African Union Bureau.

“We agreed to establish regional coronavirus task forces in each of Africa’s five regions: Southern Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa and Northern Africa.

They will oversee screening, detection and diagnosis; infection prevention and control; clinical management of infected persons; and communication and community engagement,” Ramaphosa said in his weekly newsletter to the nation.

“There is a common appreciation that this virus, if not contained, could present a very real and serious setback to all our countries as we strive to eradicate poverty, inequality and underdevelopment in already constrained circumstances.”

There have been more than 9, 198 confirmed cases in nearly 50 African countries, 1 655 of which are in South Africa.

A number of African countries have embarked on measures such as border closures, nationwide lockdowns and the roll-out of mass screening and testing programmes.

“African countries are working together. Africa is speaking with one voice and acting in unison,” Ramaphosa said.

The African Union Bureau received presentations from World Health Organization director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr John Nkengasong, who provided an update on the state of the pandemic in Africa and across the world.

“What they told us was extremely concerning. It confirmed the need to act swiftly and to undertake extraordinary measures,” said Ramaphosa.

“There is a common appreciation that this virus, if not contained, could present a very real and serious setback to all our countries as we strive to eradicate poverty, inequality and underdevelopment in already constrained circumstances.”

The regional coronavirus task forces will oversee screening, detection and diagnosis; infection prevention and control; clinical management of infected persons; and communication and community engagement.

Although Africa has weak health systems and millions of people live in conditions of poverty, Ramaphosa said, several countries across Africa have wide-ranging and extensive experience in managing infectious disease outbreaks and epidemics.

“The task forces will put this experience to good effect as we confront the current health emergency.”

But Africa is facing a severe shortage of coronavirus test kits, medicines, face masks and other personal protection equipment and the bureau was working with the WHO, Africa CDC and various world leaders to mobilise international support for Africa, to enable the flow of vital supplies into the continent and to significantly increase local production in African countries.

Ramaphosa also announced the establishment of an African Union Covid-19 response fund, to which AU Bureau members have already committed $12.5 million.

Funding to the Africa CDC, which is driving the continental health response, will be increased, with an additional $4.5 million already committed.

“Africa cannot do this alone … Given the substantial toll this pandemic is already taking on African economies, the assistance that will be needed could run into billions of dollars,” said Ramaphosa.

A number of measures were proposed by the AU Bureau, including a comprehensive stimulus package for Africa. This could include debt relief in the form of interest payment waivers and deferred payments.

This would free up much-needed financial resources now that national budgets are being reprioritised to support the coronavirus response.

South Africa continues to receive practical support from countries like the United States, China, Cuba and Russia.

“Even as these countries struggle to contain the pandemic themselves, they are willing to support South Africa’s and Africa’s response. In uniting behind this global health emergency, as African countries we have shown once again our ability to transcend political and other differences in pursuit of a common objective.

We should seize this moment to deepen collaboration across other areas, such as development or trade,” said Ramaphosa.

He said that, in both their respective national responses and the continental effort, African countries could hold their own.

“In collaboration with the WHO our pandemic preparedness plans have been solid. In areas where constraints exist, there has been demonstrated commitment to extend support and capacity to those countries in need.

“Our Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is world-class. As are our health professionals, scientists and epidemiologists. With the necessary international support, we can bolster health infrastructure and health systems on the continent. At the same time, African countries will help each other.”

If we continue in this positive vein, he said, Africa will truly demonstrate it is more than capable of resolving it challenges.

“Through deeper collaboration, we will turn the tide against this virus, region by region, country by country.”

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