This is not the first time world leaders face a crisis of global proportions, such as war, economic recession or a health pandemic. If there’s one thing past global crises have made clear is that effective and strong leadership is one that translates ME, the leader, into WE, the nation, and beyond that, the rest of the world.
What the current coronavirus pandemic is revealing is that leadership around the world is failing to such an extent as to exemplify that survival today is not of the fittest but of the biggest bully means. There’s no attempt at global leadership. Instead, leaders of so-called developed around the world are waging a war for medical equipment, politicians are insulting one another over detained shipments, and no country is taking charge. It’s every nation for itself…except in Africa.
A global crisis requires a collaborative spirit
While the “first” world squabbles, Africa unites its efforts. The African Union
has taken on renewed meaning as a driver of collaboration and unity in the three critical areas for fighting against COVID-19: solidarity in the medical corps, economic solidarity, and solidarity in the military corps.
Solidarity in the medical corps
Africa CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center and its Incident Management System (IMS) for the COVID-19 outbreak on 27 January 2020. The second Africa CDC Incident Action Plan (IAP) for COVID-19 covering a one month period from 13 February to 12 March 2020 was also developed. And Africa CDC is holding weekly updates with national public health institutes in Member States and has formed working groups for high priority areas of coronavirus control, including: surveillance; laboratory diagnosis; infection prevention and control; clinical care; and risk communication.
From 6-8 February 2020 in Senegal, Africa CDC in collaboration with Institute of Pasteur, Dakar, trained 16 African laboratories to diagnose SARS-CoV-2 using PCR. Each went home with a kit which allows screening of 192 suspects and confirming 96.
Africa CDC has also been working with Member States to build infection prevention and control capacities in healthcare facilities and with the airline sector to support screening of travelers. It held two IPC trainings with 22 Member States between from 20-25 February 2020 in Abuja, Nigeria. From 27-29 February it completed a risk communications training in Tunis, for 13 Member States. A second training for an additional 12 countries was completed the first week in March.
The Africa Union Ministers of Health gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 22 February for an emergency COVID-19 meeting where they agreed upon a joint continental strategy and guidance for assessment, movement restrictions, and monitoring of people at risk for COVID-19, including people being repatriated from China.
Across Africa, with help from the World Health Organization (WHO), countries have also stepped up proactive measures in a bid to ensure testing capacity by setting up labs. In the first week of April alone, the number of laboratories in Africa that are able to test samples of the virus has tripled with Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria and Sierra Leone joining a short list that previously only included only Senegal and South Africa. It’s a crucial step in preparedness given the importance of early detection and monitoring during viral outbreaks. The objective of the World Health Organization (WHO) is that more than half of the countries on the continent be able to conduct sample tests by the end of April.
Solidarity among governments
The African Union’s Ministers of Health met on February 22, 2020 to prepare a continental strategy. They also established the Africa Coronavirus Task Force (AFCOR), whose six technical teams work closely with African Union’s 55 member states, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Africa CDC (Center for Disease and Control). AFCOR’s mission is to strengthen national capacity to address the priorities in the fight against COVID-19, such as point of entry monitoring, community health center case tracking, and testing.
Thanks to the united response, 43 African countries now have the capacity to test and track. Coordinated strategy is bearing its fruit: Africa CDC has, for the moment, dedicated $850,000 to reinforce COVID-19 response capacity in the three highest risk countries: Nigeria, Cameroon and Kenya. Although a modest sum, it has helped strengthen screening, testing and tracking capacity, both essential for prevention of widespread infection.
All panafrican financial institutions have contributed resources for the battle against the virus.
- The BOAD (West African Development Bank) has unlocked 120B Fcfa ($USD 200M) in the form of loans to each member state for the amount of 12B Fcfa ($USD 24.9M) and has committed to freeze part of their debt, estimated at $USD 127M.
- The Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEAT) has reserved $USD 100M to support the efforts of sub-Saharan Africa in the areas of prevention and virus propagation limitation.
- The African Import-Export Bank (Afrieximbank) has announced a $USD 3B commerce impact attenuation fund to help African central banks face the economic impacts of the pandemic, especially defaults in commercial payments and to support and stabilize foreign currency reserves, thereby helping African Union members maintain critical imports in emergency conditions.
Security and Defense solidarity
In light of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and its objective to silence arms, a joint African Union-ECOWAS-G5 Sahel meeting was held to discuss deployment to the Sahel of 3,000 soldiers from the African forces to support the efforts of the G5 Sahel Joint Force partnership to fight terrorism. The President of the African Union has also urgently called for the international community to support operational solidarity efforts in the fight against terrorism.
Solidarity at regional level (example of ECOWAS)
The Ministers of Health of all 15 member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also met in February, in Bamako, Mali, convened by the West African Health Organization, their purpose was to define a regional strategy in anticipation of coronavirus touchdown. As a result of the collaborative meeting, (there were no shouting matches or insults!), the Ministers of Health decided to:
- Reinforce coordination, communication and collaboration among member states in preparation for COVID-19 touchdown on the continent;
- Specific collaborative efforts for transborder collaboration to identify and manage any coronavirus cases of infection;
- Reinforce surveillance in points of entry to member nations (air, land and sea)
- Reinforce communication to ensure the public in all member nations receive precise, appropriate and timely information on the epidemic;
- Reinforce immediately the national capacity of all member nations for testing and treatment, proceeding to immediately buy and send testing kits and PPE to member nations and then ordering an entire package of medical equipment, including diagnostic kits, specimen collection kits, machines to transport viral samples, PPE, ventilators and several thousands of liters of sanitizing gel. The quantities ordered were not much compared to what is now being urgently sought by the U.S. as it competes in a global treasure hunt. But at the onset of the virus the U.S. was ordering none.
- Promote multisectoral national efforts based on a regional single-health approach.
- Implement specific measures to ensure availability throughout the region of essential medical equipment, including for laboratories and PPE.
- Ensure that competent authorities in each member state work closely together with the Chinese government to ensure the health and safety of member state citizens residing in China.
African leaders have recognized the necessity for collaboration and strong solidarity among nations and the international community and is applying the lessons learned from the 2014 Ebola crisis: swift detection, early testing and rapid response, and effective surveillance. Meanwhile, America has failed to translate the “me” inherent to true leadership into the “we” necessary to mobilize the country behind a concerted effort to overcome a national challenge. Instead, a false war cry has turned into a war of words and blame and masks and hand sanitizer.