COVID-19 in Africa: insights from our 9 April WHO media briefing

Beatrice Di Caro
Social Media and Live Communications Lead, Digital Media, World Economic Forum
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  • Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa
  • Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa
  • Mohammed Abdiker, International Organization for Migration Regional Director for East and Horn of Africa
  • Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa, World Economic Forum
Joined by
  • Dr Michel Yao, Regional Emergency Response Manager, World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa
    Joining from Brazzaville
Moderated by
  • Adrian Monck, Managing Director, World Economic Forum
Some of the key points raised by the participants:

"The pandemic is continuing to evolve rapidly in Africa. In the past week we have more than 10,000 confirmed cases on the continent, and unfortunately more than 500 people have lost their lives. There are also clusters of cases and community spread going on in at least 16 of our countries - so we are no longer talking about imported cases.

"We are also seeing the epidemic spread geographically within these countries beyond capital cities to the district and local levels, which has serious implications... Capacity for testing needs to go beyond capital cities, and we really need to engage with community health workers and volunteers of partner organisations like the Red Cross - and governments need to mobilise their capacities to replicate these interventions at the local level." - Dr Matshidiso Moeti

"COVID-19 does not discriminate, but its impact does. The vulnerable are the hardest hit. Today we are looking at 128 million children out of school in the 24 countries of the west and central African region. Violence against children and women is on the rise. And we are concerned that the pandemic is starting to affect malnutrition levels because of the disruptions of food systems and routine healthcare services.

"One thing we would like to put on the table that we have learned over the years is the importance of community engagement. On our continent this is key. We may have the best plan ever, but if communities are not part of it from the outset - if they are not main actors - it will not work." - Marie-Pierre Poirier

"The pandemic has a severe impact on migrants, internally displaced persons (IDP) and mobility across Africa. It is a health crisis, yes, but mobility has become the key victim. We are seeing large numbers of migrants stranded at airports and at land and sea borders... We are seeing deportations [of migrants] increasing among member states, which is the not the right thing to do at the moment in a pandemic.

"The issue about self-isolation - how do we work on that in very crowded places like IDP camps and migrant camps? How do we deal with that in the slums?

"We are seeing a severe economic impact right now, if we talk about remittances. Most of the migrants in Europe, the US or the Gulf countries have lost their jobs. No one is sending money home to their parents or their children, so education is going to be impacted. And the normal day-to-day allowance that they need to live on is becoming an issue that we are seeing right now." - Mohammed Abdiker

"It is very unfortunate for Africa that its major trading and development partners in Asia, Europe and now the US have advanced the negative economic effects on the continent, most importantly by negatively impacting governments' revenues and their ability to respond to the crisis.

"With respect to addressing the crisis, we are seeing partnerships emerging between governments and the private sector, both within the continent at a regional level, coordinated by the African Union (AU) and the African Centre for Disease Control; also globally, in terms of collaboration between global corporations also supporting governments and working with the WHO and the AU; and also [governments are] collaborating with companies on the continent to see if they can repurpose their operations to address and build up the capabilities of governments to respond to the crisis.

"It is still too early to tell - it will get worse before it gets better - so there is an urgent need to move fast to address the crisis. Getting ahead of the virus will very much influence when countries can emerge from lockdowns and when people can resume their normal livelihoods." - Elsie Kanza

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