Africa needs effective continent-wide and predictable mechanism on COVID-19
Africa has been the 'last frontier' in many issues, but this time, that may be of some good, if only we can take advantage of the late arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region. The late reporting of confirmed cases should have been, and could still be, Africa's breathing room to put in place regional-level mechanisms to contain the pandemic on the continent as much as is humanly possible.
Yes, there's the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), its COVID-19 Resources <https://africacdc.org/covid-19-and-resources>, and Twitter feed <https://twitter.com/africacdc>. Yet, Africans everywhere need to feel the impact of a strong regional response to the current threat. That is, an authority, which can order, direct, enforce, monitor and report on key elements of national responses to this existential menace.
The regional dimension of the response is clear - the virus does not have border limits; capacity to respond varies between countries; resources and expertise can be better optimized when shared; surveillance data, treatment effects and knowledge about other factors could be rapidly shared for better decision making at the local level; plus, eliminating any local political danger that may be directed at journalists and civil society organizations regarding their reporting or positions on national actions on COVID-19.
Around the world, scientists at the frontline of addressing the pandemic credit China with the data made available to them. Africa has a lot of information to provide into the global knowledge on COVID-19: Africa straddles latitudes (about) 34 degrees North (around Tunis, Tunisia) to (about) 34 degrees South (about Cape of Good Hope, South Africa), thus a range of climatic zones, from Mediterranean through desert and arid to humid tropical regions. There have been speculations about effects of temperature and humidity, even wealth gaps, on ability of this virus to survive and spread in a community, and Africa could be one of the regions of the world to provide such crucial information - if data are well structured, gathered, analyzed and shared - for decision making and drugs discovery.
That means Africa should use standard procedures in terms of concise, accurate and timely information, uniformity in data structure, predictability in the time daily data are provided (in fact, must even be in real time), and devoid of political control at state or national level; the designated testing laboratories should release the figures, in real time or at least at a particular time of day or multiple times a day.
Data structure is therefore critical. Just presenting daily numbers won't be enough. There must be the graphs or other charts to clearly depict the trends that are emerging, zones within a country that have recorded positive cases, etc.
To be clear, there needs to be a regional effect that can be felt in the average African community regarding what a number of confirmed cases in a country triggers - the stage to shut national borders to air/land/sea traffic; lock down a community; and types of services that constitute 'emergency' sub-sectors and therefore allowable. One country cannot bar flights while the neighbor allows them, which would only fuel illegal border crossings as the region is replete with population overhangs and cross-border family ties.
These and more, which we'll discuss in subsequent posts, require that supra-national authorities, such as the regional economic communities and their big one, the African Union Commission, should have the enforceable authority to direct, monitor and report on key elements of national responses to this existential menace.
As Nelson Mandela saw it, the culture of silence contributed to a large extent in the region's weak response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, leading to the pain that almost every African has known from the loss of loved ones, and that should guide us in our handling of the current threat.
SDG Africa Network is an independent, non-governmenal resource center, which is being operated by a team of experienced development finance experts on African-grown innovations toward achieving inclusive development outcomes.