UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Ahunna Eziakonwa talks to Africa Renewal’s Kingsley Ighobor on COVID-19, maintains that response success will depend on pan-African solidarity. Excerpts:
What is your take on Africa producing its own medical equipment?
Africa is already producing pharmaceutical and medical equipment and supplies. We have been through quite a few health crises - from HIV and AIDS, to Ebola and the rest of them – which led to some medical industries sprouting but we need more to fight the current pandemic. Africa has possibilities. The African Union has an industrial policy around local production, which can be activated and taken to a much higher level. We see South African companies already producing ventilators in a matter of weeks; we see several countries’ breweries shifting from producing alcoholic drinks to hand sanitizer. The potential is there but it requires policy direction. At the minimum, Africa should and can produce most of what it needs rather than import.
What next for Africa?
Africa needs solidarity. The revival of the pan-African spirit is important. We may win the battle but not the war if we fight on an individual basis. Africa's fate is tied together through our porous borders. And so, a successful response to this pandemic will require pan-African solidarity. Secondly, we cannot fight this pandemic with stigma. This is a virus that should bring us together as a human family, not divide us. And we can only win if we embrace compassion.
It's one of those pandemics where we are only safe when everybody is safe. Success anywhere cannot be sustained without success everywhere.
Thirdly, African governments cannot do this alone. Everyone is important. We should have community leaders, traditional leaders, or business leaders, join forces with government to fight this virus. Religious leaders can play a role in ensuring that the spiritual health of their congregations is maintained, things that help keep hope alive and stay connected with each other without necessarily gathering and infecting each other.
Finally, we cannot forget that before this crisis, there were challenges on the continent, which still need attention. For example, 16 million internally displaced people and refugees will be disproportionately affected by this crisis. We need to find ways to ensure that they are protected and that their needs continue to be met.
Above all, we cannot forget the health workers on the frontlines who are risking their lives to save ours. As Africans let us mobilize for them, to celebrate them and to ensure that they have the protective gear they need.