Africa must protect itself against future pandemics and other shocks through higher investment in primary healthcare and increased local manufacturing of key medical products, panelists at the Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development urged on Monday.
Egypt hosted the virtual, second edition of the meeting, titled Shaping Africa’s New Normal: Recovering Stronger, Rebuilding Better’.
A significant part of the discussion centered on providing access to COVID-19 vaccinations and to healthcare more generally.
This is not the first pandemic and it is not going to be the last,” said Egypt’s Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Hala El-Said, who appealed for vaccine equity and the establishment of research and diagnostic centres that focus on pandemics in Africa. She also invited the private sector to play a greater role in investing in the healthcare of Africans.
Investments in healthcare must be a priority, said World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “A healthy population is a secure, resilient and prosperous population,” the WHO chief said. “As we work together to respond, recover, and rebuild, we must see health as an investment to be nurtured- an investment that delivers for each and everyone.”
African Development Bank President Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina called for the establishment of an African Financial Stability Mechanism to help the continent withstand future economic shocks such as the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we go into the African Continental Free Trade Area, we cannot afford this kind of shocks that could pull our economies down, because that is an economy of $3.8 trillion,” Dr. Adesina said.
“It is time for us to develop and put in place an African Financial Stability Mechanism that will ensure that Africa does not reel from side to side when situations like this happen,” Adesina added.
The African Development Bank President cited as a model the European Financial Stabilization Mechanism created by the European Commission to provide financial assistance to EU countries experiencing or threatened by serious financial difficulties. “We were looking for $154 billion for Africa last year. We couldn’t even get it,” he said.
Speakers agreed that in the near term, securing vaccine equity—access to an adequate and affordable supply of vaccines against COVID-19—would be critical.
The Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), John Nkengasong, urged Africans to use vaccine supplies effectively. “Unless, and until we vaccinate at least 60% of our population, we remain a continent of COVID-19 going forward, with serious economic and health implications. We must do everything to meet our vaccination targets,” he said.
It was agreed that another lesson of the pandemic is that African countries need to promote the domestic manufacture of diagnostic equipment, vaccines and other medicines.
“We need to build back better, bolder and bigger, and embrace a new public health order for our continent,” Nkengasong said.
The Aswan Forum, an annual event that receives support from the African Development Bank and other international and regional organizations, promotes an agenda to address the peace, security and development challenges that Africa faces. The forum runs from the 1st to 5th of March.