“Healthcare cooperation is key to achieving aspiration 1 and goal 1 of Africa’s Agenda 2063 as well as SDG 3 on ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all.” This is according to a communiqué issued at the end of a virtual meeting on the regional impacts of and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The webinar, which took place on 13 May 2020 was convened by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in collaboration with Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to explore possibilities and opportunities foraccelerated health integration in Africa.
The communiqué noted that “some level of health integration is happening on the continent as evidenced in the establishment of many regional and cooperative health initiatives,” such as the Africa Health Strategy (2016-2030), the Africa CDC, the African Medicines Agency, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa, among others.
It stated, however, that the “poor synchronisation and coordination of these initiatives,” could be blamed for Africa’s “impaired effectiveness” in responding to earlier and ongoing disease outbreaks such as the 2014-2016 Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) that claimed about 11,310 lives, and the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.
The meeting was chaired by ECA’s director for regional integration and trade, Stephen Karingi, with participants from seven RECS (AMU, ECCAS, ECOWAS, COMESA, IGAD, SADC, and SACU) as well as ECA staff from Addis Ababa and the five Subregional Offices (SROs).
The webinar served as a platform for participants to discuss the findings of some analytical work done by ECA SROs and headquarter Divisions on the impact of COVID-19 on RECs and their member states.
As of 12 May 2020, there were 69,451 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 2395 deaths and 23,973 recoveries in Africa. Amidst fear and projections that COVID-19 rates might worsen in Africa, the meeting expressed concern over the relatively low levels of health spending on the continent (5.6 percent of GDP compared to a world average of 9.9 percent), limited hospital bed capacity, low access to household hand-washing facilities, and a heavy dependency on imports for pharmaceutical products.
The RECs also shared their respective contributions to the COVID-19 response and proposed ideas to enhancing health integration and overall regional integration amidst the crisis.They underscored, for example, that keeping borders open to allow critical supplies (pharmaceuticals, PPE, and food) to flow between countries was crucial.
The communiqué noted that leveraging on the AfCFTA framework to coordinate the development of regional medical hubs, along with the harmonisation of healthcare regulations, will allow Africa to become more self-sufficient for its growing healthcare needs.
The meeting proposed :
· Establishment of more laboratories, including mobile testing stations, at regional and national levels in order to improve the testing of the infection
· Development of local production capabilities to reduce import dependency on PPE and pharmaceutical products
· Enhancement of regional cooperation/coordination for health integration in managing both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19
· Strengthening the capacity of the RECs for early warning systems, including in the area of health, to respond effectively to both the current COVID-19 pandemic and others future
· ECA was urged to make the convening of such experience sharing forum between RECs a regular feature of its work, throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.