African countries united in COVID-19 response

1 February 2021

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has described the COVID-19 pandemic as a health, humanitarian, social and economic crisis, which African countries are responding to collectively.

“COVID-19 has affected all the countries on the continent. To date, there are more than 3.5 million confirmed cases in Africa, and more than 88 000 people have died. It has been a health, humanitarian, social and economic crisis for African countries, most of whom are inadequately resourced to manage a health emergency of this size,” said the President in his weekly newsletter.

In the letter on Monday, the President reflected on South Africa’s term as Chair of the African Union (AU), which comes to end later this week.

South Africa assumed Chairship of the AU in the same month that the first case of COVID-19 was reported on the African continent.

Collective response

The President said African countries have come together to fight the pandemic, drawn principally on the continent’s own expertise, capabilities and institutions such as the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

“Africa did not sit by passively as the true extent and danger of the pandemic unfurled. From the earliest days of the pandemic and led by the AU, we swiftly developed a continental response strategy, driven by the Africa CDC and regional task forces,” he said.

The AU realised that every country on the continent would be severely affected by the pandemic, and that most would not have the resources needed to meet the public health challenge or to protect their economies.

“We therefore agreed as African countries to appoint several prominent Africans as special envoys, who would engage with international funders and multilateral institutions to make the case for financial support and debt relief on Africa’s behalf.”

The continent was able to achieve debt relief for many countries and financial assistance towards the COVID-19 response and economic recovery.

“But much as African countries went to the international community for support, we first helped ourselves – establishing and capitalising a continental COVID-19 Response Fund.

"For every partnership forged with better-resourced nations and the international donor community, we set up our own innovative and ground-breaking African Medical Supplies Platform to enable all African countries to quickly secure personal protective equipment and other medical supplies in an equitable, affordable manner.”

Vaccine rollout

The President said with the COVID-19 vaccine now available, the AU has worked to ensure that the continent gets its fair share, working with the COVAX Facility and led by the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

"Vaccine rollout has already commenced on the continent and we aspire to have the majority of the continent’s population vaccinated by the end of 2021 to achieve herd immunity,” he said.

President Ramaphosa said protecting the health and livelihoods of people on the continent has been a priority.

“We have acted as one to protect health, people and livelihoods on the continent. In doing so, we have demonstrated our capacity for self-reliance and our ability to be the drivers of our own development.

"Despite the dominance of COVID-19, we have still managed to make advances in several of our key priorities.”

Key priorities

During South Africa’s term as AU Chair, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was finally launched, heralding a new era of intra-African trade and economic integration.

Even under the difficult conditions posed by the pandemic, the continent has pushed ahead with towards the goal of ‘silencing the guns’ on the continent.

In addition, the AU has been actively involved in negotiations around the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, achieving a ceasefire in Libya and promoting peace in South Sudan.

“Another focus of our term has been on the economic empowerment of women, which we will continue to champion even beyond our term and throughout the Decade of African Women’s Financial and Economic Inclusion to 2030,” said President Ramaphosa.

As South Africa hands over the baton to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), “we leave this preeminent continental body in a position of greater strength”.

The President said South Africa will contine to play its part to foster integration on the continent, and support the incoming Chair and the AU in its efforts to meet the aspirations of Agenda 2063.

SAnews.gov.za