Protecting Africa from future pandemics

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There is little doubt the world was unprepared for the disruption and devastation of the covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused unimaginable disruption to normal life, and these disruptions continue to delay the recovery of economies and health systems.
While Africa appears to have escaped the severest effects of the pandemic, most likely due to younger populations, warmer climes, and familiarity with public health crises, what it has not evaded is the exposure of its weak health systems.

Africa is no stranger to the devastation unleashed by outbreaks of infectious disease. The Ebola outbreak that began in 2014 killed over 11,000 people in West Africa and caused an estimated economic loss of $2.2 billion in the three worst-affected countries in 2015 alone.
Although Africa was initially expected by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, The African continent appears to have managed Covid-19 better or at least recorded the least number of cases from the disease with the lowest rates of infections, compared to Asia, Europe, and the Americas. This statistic might be attributed to the low testing capacity, existing public health awareness, and lessons learnt during the Ebola epidemic. Nonetheless, the relatively low rate of infection should be an opportunity for Africa to think about pandemics that may come after COVID-19.
There are ample warnings from the World Health Organization that another pandemic as deadly as covid-19 could occur in a matter of decades. There is no question that the continent needs to be better prepared. If we are to protect against future pandemics, we need to be better prepared.
Being prepared leads to questions about how African countries can shore up their health systems to cope adequately, and what preparedness entails. To meet the continuing health system challenges and avoid the same fate in future pandemics, African countries must take these bold actions to repair their health systems and make them more resilient.
Under three sub-headlines this brief article is looking into how Africa can better prepare or protect itself from future pandemics like COVID-19. In an attempt to plan ahead let us look at the financial aspect, strengthening the health sector and being proactive in all that we do.

Make Finance Available
African governments, policymakers, and relevant stakeholders must devise ways to make funds available by instituting a preparedness financing structure that involves and serves every country. Funds set aside for pandemic preparedness and response, primarily by G20 nations, were inadequate for the COVID-19 response. The dispersion was slow and the little available funds resulted in developing countries incurring more debt. To avoid a similar scenario, African nations must set aside funds for the inevitable.
They will also need to look critically at their health allocations and, crucially, how it is utilised. To inspire confidence in the health systems, governments must close loopholes that allow corruption and theft of public funds.

Focus On Health System Strengthening and Resilience
Africa successfully curbed the devastation envisaged by many to plague the continent following the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there is an urgent need for Africa to rethink the tools for managing this and future pandemics beyond receiving handouts from the western world. Harnessing Africa’s human and mineral resources to furnish its health care systems is unfathomable.
African countries must learn to look inward to address their specific health system weaknesses, such as the ability to produce medical supplies domestically. Only through creating solutions for our problems by ourselves will African countries derive the greatest benefit and support from global initiatives.
African governments and institutions also need to improve medical procurement and regulatory processes. African countries need to strengthen its basic public health interventions.
Proactive and Innovative
The next pandemic is unlikely to be COVID. But the experience of the 10 year wait for HIV antiretrovirals and challenges accessing COVID-19 vaccinations shows that the wait will be much more than 100 days for innovations from other continents to reach Africa. Therefore, valuing and using Africa’s traditional knowledge and medicines should be researched and promoted particularly in light of the covid-19 vaccine inequities. Innovation should be encouraged and supported.
Africa needs to solve its own problems, and this will include leading its own efforts to vaccine development in the future. This will further require African governments to commit to improving science leadership in Africa and developing key research policy.
If Africa is to emerge unscathed by future pandemics – with all the associated loss of life, economic disruption, and social isolation associated with pandemics – the continent needs to start with a commitment to building the resilience to epidemics and pandemics that will protect the populations of the future.



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