New York – The African continent’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has provided valuable lessons for the rest of the world in meeting this challenge. Most African countries have moved rapidly to deepen regional coordination, deploy health workers and enforce quarantines, lockdowns and border closures. Governments and health authorities are also drawing on the experience of HIV/AIDS and Ebola to debunk rumors and overcome mistrust of officials, security forces and health workers.
Nonetheless, continued vigilance and preparedness are critical as the virus remains a threat to life, livelihoods and health across the continent.
Many countries across the continent have enjoyed strong economic growth in recent years. Standards of living have risen; the digital revolution has taken hold; and the African Continental Free Trade Area is moving from vision to reality.
This is now at risk, as COVID-19 aggravates long-standing inequalities and deepens hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease. Millions could be pushed into extreme poverty. Tourism, remittances and demand for Africa’s commodities are already declining, and the opening of the trade zone has been delayed.
The United Nations, and I personally, stand in total solidarity with the people and governments of Africa, and with the African Union, in tackling COVID-19. U.N. agencies, country teams, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian workers are providing training, expertise and other support. U.N. solidarity flights have delivered millions of test kits, respirators and other supplies.
The policy brief just issued by the U.N. calls for urgent international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings.
Since the start of the pandemic, I have called for a global response package amounting to at least 10 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. For Africa, that means more than $200 billion as additional support from the international community.
I also continue to advocate a comprehensive debt framework — starting with an across-the-board debt standstill for countries unable to service their debt, followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults.
It will also be essential for African countries to sustain their efforts to silence the guns and address violent extremism — and I welcome African support for my call for a global ceasefire. Political processes and elections in the coming months offer potential milestones for stability and peace.
And African countries, like all countries, must have quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment for COVID-19. These must be considered global public goods.
Women will be central to every aspect of the response. Stimulus packages must prioritize putting cash in the hands of women, increasing social protection and targeting them for grants and loans. Creating jobs, training and educational opportunities for Africa’s young people must be another central goal.
Many difficult decisions will need to be taken as the pandemic unfolds; it will be essential for governments and health authorities to build and retain the trust and participation of their citizens. The response to this pandemic must be based on respect for human rights, the rule of law and the dignity and equality of all.
These are still early days for the pandemic in Africa, and disruption could escalate quickly and spread uncontrollably. Global solidarity with Africa is an imperative — now, and for recovering better.
Antonio Guterres is secretary-general of the United Nations.
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