Partially as a result of COVID-19, the African continent has taken positive advances in the direction of pandemic preparedness. In terms of surveillance systems, domestic finance mechanisms, regulatory control, national public health institutes, and funding sustainability, these efforts must continue with a feeling of urgency and efficiency.
The second International Conference on Public Health in Africa, hosted in December 2022 by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in partnership with the Rwanda Ministry of Health, provided a forum for discussing pandemic preparedness from an African perspective and debating what we got right as a continent and where we need to forge a path toward an Africa that is prepared to respond.
Early in 2021, Africa observed the global north making rapid headway with COVID-19 mass immunizations while pleading for vaccine doses to be made available to its population. By the end of December 2021, when the United States and several European nations had vaccinated over fifty percent of their populations, Africa had only managed to vaccine approximately eleven percent.
In a report published in the Devex, Gerald Chirinda and Shingai Machingaidze state that vaccination coverage in Africa has reached 45.6% by the beginning of February, despite the continent’s failure to meet the aim of 70%. About three years into the response to this debilitating pandemic, national, regional, and worldwide views have yielded a multitude of crucial lessons.
The COVID-19 epidemic created an atmosphere that demanded innovation and investment by Africa for Africa. Numerous collaborative continental projects launched or bolstered in response to this epidemic have demonstrated what the continent is capable of under the strictest circumstances.
- The Africa Vaccine Acquisition Trust, often known as AVAT, for local financing of COVID-19 vaccinations.
- The Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM), which aims to produce 60 percent of vaccines locally by 2040.
- The Africa Medical Supplies Platform, or AMSP, is a method for pooled procurement that ensures member states have prompt access to COVID-19-related diagnostics, medications, and other medical supplies from approved manufacturers, suppliers, and procurement partners at low prices.
- The Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing Plan for Africa, which business strategy presents a package of answers to the most significant difficulties facing the pharmaceutical industry, to be implemented through multisectoral and multistakeholder initiatives.
- The Trusted Travel platform, which supports harmonized, standardized, and coordinated entry and exit procedures for passengers in African Union member states via digital solutions.
In addition, the African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA, under the direction of the African Union, creates a market of 1.3 billion people now and a potential market of 2.2 billion people by 2050. With considerable economies of scale and scope, Africa’s manufacturers are able to compete effectively. These projects, along with many others, are all oriented toward making Africa more efficient and self-sufficient.
In response to the spread of COVID-19, a unified Africa spoke out against global gaps in health, specifically access to vaccines. Africa posed a challenge to the global north and the existing quo and ensured that its voice was heard. The global health landscape has been influenced favorably, gaining a moral compass and altering what was previously accepted.
Currently, the African Union plays a crucial regional coordination role. It has utilized its convening authority to bring member states together and lead talks and decision-making processes, so allowing the successful implementation of a number of programs across the continent.
The Africa CDC continues to lead the continental health response to COVID-19 in collaboration with numerous regional and global partners, such as the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa; Mastercard Foundation; World Bank; African Export-Import Bank; Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; GIZ; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; UNICEF, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; Amref Health Africa; and many others.
An essential component of an effective pandemic response mechanism is action-oriented and respectful collaboration. In May of 2022, Future Africa Forum and the Pandemic Action Network organized a conference in which a variety of stakeholders discussed how Africa’s response may have been improved.
Nowadays, international donors fill the majority of Africa’s substantial health finance shortfall. According to the World Health Organization, sub-Saharan countries should spend $271 per capita on health rather than the present $189 per capita. This epidemic has shown us the need of regional and domestic financial arrangements that can adequately meet continental demands. Simply said, our governments must improve. African states might begin by holding one another accountable and fulfilling the 15% public health budget expenditures outlined in the Abuja Declaration of 2001.
During the initial period of the pandemic, when clinical trials for vaccine candidates were being done, it was evident that the global north was in a stronger position. Not only did they possess all intellectual property rights to all prospective vaccine candidates, but they also possessed the knowledge, regulatory processes, and manpower to speed the entire process, from discovery to market access.
Africa can look forward to the Africa Medicines Agency filling this void and providing regulatory oversight for the continent. Yet, this has yet to be implemented, and the rate at which AMA is operationalized is crucial for the development of Africa’s pandemic response capacity. Urgent implementation is required of a clear and straightforward deployment plan.
While the continental apparatus for reacting to pandemics is in the process of being established, the national capacities of AU member states vary considerably. National public health institutes, or NPHIs, are envisioned as the primary national health agency at the country level, ensuring robust surveillance and monitoring systems capable of recognizing health hazards and bolstering the public health system.
While Africa continues to respond to COVID-19, there are other conflicting health agendas. Delayed access to COVID-19 vaccines means that even if a substantial portion of the African population may now have access to these vaccines, they may no longer view it as necessary. This generates a new challenge in the form of low vaccine demand, necessitating a fresh set of measures.
In the meantime, many of our vital health projects on the continent for HIV, tuberculosis, neglected tropical illnesses, and other diseases have fallen behind schedule and require immediate attention to get back on track. Despite the enormous budget gap that must be covered by domestic financing mechanisms in order to sustain our health care systems, there are steps the continent must take to ensure the progress made in pandemic preparedness is not reversed.
All programs established with donor monies must have sustainability plans that provide a gradual transition from donor cash to local funding methods. Under workforce development, skills transfer programs are essential to ensure that all required knowledge to operate and manage specialized job streams remains on the continent. The global north and the global south should continue to cultivate alliances based on mutual respect to ensure their continuing progress and knowledge exchange.
On January 11, 2023, the Ministry of Health of Uganda declared the end of the ebola outbreak caused by the Sudan ebolavirus, which affected nine out of 146 districts, lasted around 116 days beginning on September 20, 2022, and resulted in 142 confirmed cases and 55 deaths. The successful containment of this outbreak, facilitated by efficient quick response systems and coordinated national and regional coordination, is an additional step toward a better-prepared Africa.
Africa faces the huge task of managing its continental and national health care systems while simultaneously promoting a transition from a reactive response to health concerns to a proactive approach to future health hazards.