Africa’s ability to respond to future pandemics will depend on making investments in health and education, and governments must immediately intensify efforts to avoid further crisis.
“Ebola was a signal,” John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told participants in a virtual session on healthcare held during the African Development Bank’s 2021 Annual Meetings. “We can also look at Covid-19 as an indication that something more severe will come if we do not strengthen our health defenses.”
The Annual Meetings are unfolding against the backdrop of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has exposed the lack of access to primary healthcare for most Africans, as well as overreliance on imported medicines.
Nkengasong, along with other health and disease experts, spoke in a knowledge session titled Building Africa’s Healthcare Defense System. He urged four steps: workforce development; manufacturing capacity of diagnostics, vaccines, and treatment; institution building, and partnerships with the private sector. The Africa CDC has been instrumental in the continent’s fight against Covid-19
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Africa, emphasized WHO’s partnership with the African Development Bank and regional governments. WHO and its partners in COVAX, the worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, are also cooperating with a South African consortium including corporations, universities, and the Africa CDC to set up a pioneering technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccine technology.
“This important public-private partnership is an important step to building the infrastructure and human resource capacity to contribute to closing the gap in access to vaccines on the continent,” Moeti said. “I see the African Development Bank playing a critical role on this journey alongside the African Union and the African CDC.”
African Development Bank President Akinwumi A Adesina underscored the Bank’s engagement with the issue. “We must give hope to the poor and the vulnerable, by ensuring that every African, regardless of their income level, gets access to quality health care, as well as health insurance and social protection,” he said.
James Scriven, CEO of IDB Invest, the Inter-American Development Bank’s private sector institution, offered lessons from Latin America, which he described as the fastest-growing region for generic pharmaceuticals. He said: “Now is the right time to strengthen pharma manufacturing capability in emerging countries, and support business models that can expand the reach and supply of medicines and healthcare.”
Former World Bank president Jim Kim, a vice-chairman and partner with Global Infrastructure Partners, said a holistic approach that would harness community workers and improved infrastructure would be crucial. He called on the private sector to be a partner in building Africa’s healthcare defenses.
“You cannot end extreme poverty if you are neglecting the investments in health and education that are so critical to economic growth,” said Kim. He urged a return to basics, adding: “It’s not one thing. It’s the health workers, it’s hospital beds, it’s making sure that you can provide oxygen, and then it’s going to be production capacity for these vaccines, and this all has to happen very quickly.”