On 13 October 2021, the African Union Champion on COVID-19, President Cyril Ramaphosa, met with members of the Secretariat and the Leads of the Working Groups of the Commission on Africa’s COVID-19 Response Strategy to discuss progress made by the Expert Panel.
Since its inaugural meeting on 22 June 2021, a panel of health experts forming the Commission has been working to meet its two-fold mandate which is, firstly, to identify gaps in the continental COVID-19 response strategy and propose evidence-based interventions; and secondly, to generate evidence to assess the impact of COVID-19 on social and economic harm on the continent and propose ways to a strong recovery.
The Experts outlined a progressive, inward-looking plan of action to strengthen the regional position and secure future health resilience.
Having recognised the difficulties that Africa faced in a multilateral context, the Experts introduced a bold plan to establish an African Pandemic Preparedness and Response Authority (APPRA) and Fund to secure the region’s capacity to respond to subsequent waves of COVID-19 and future pandemics.
However, while the proposed global collaboration on pandemic preparedness was welcomed in principle, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed deep inequalities between wealthy and low-and-middle-income countries that were not resolved through multilateralism.
Therefore, it was patently clear to the Experts that the region needed an autonomous, coherent strategy to ensure it can independently protect its own people in the event of future outbreaks.
The Experts also tabled a plan to reinforce the core COVID-19 response, adopting an approach to intensify surveillance by supporting Africa CDC’s deployment of 200 million rapid diagnostic tests across the continent, through a sentinel surveillance programme.
In keeping with the WHO Living Guideline on case management of COVID-19, the Experts will support accessibility of new lifesaving therapeutics, such as monoclonal antibodies and interleukin-6, through an implementation study whilst simultaneously understanding their efficacy in the African context.
Further on therapeutics, the Experts, through Africa CDC, are intensifying efforts to close the oxygen capacity gap by targeting areas of need while engaging oxygen manufacturers.
Regional intelligence gathering and sharing were highlighted as a key challenge on the continent- to address this the Experts are exploring a public-private partnership to establish a central, open-source information platform for outbreaks that will co-ordinate data collection at the continental level, ideally in real time.
Close collaboration with the Partnership on Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) has been established under the auspices of the AU through the Africa CDC.
While PAVM will continue to drive the vaccine enterprise agenda, the Experts will provide support, strategic guidance, and political will behind some of the pain points of research and development, technology transfer and intellectual property rights.
It will also anticipate and provide guidelines to mitigate against the pitfalls of a manufacturing boom.
As a cross-cutting issue, the Experts will tackle the interrelated pandemics of Gender-Based Violence and COVID-19 by evidence-based advocacy to reform laws and policies preceding and established during COVID-19 that frustrate the ability of women and girls to exercise autonomy over their bodies, particularly during crisis periods like COVID-19.
As a key component, the Experts will establish an evidence-based framework for enhancing accessibility to sexual and reproductive health services, which were deleteriously affected by the pressures of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic sharply exposed the region’s lack of capacity to produce its own stock for crisis response.
Therefore, the Experts have resolved to respond to the clarion call to establish biotechnological sovereignty for the protection of Africans.
Emphasis has been placed on future health security by building on the achievements of President Ramaphosa’s Chairship and current Championship on COVID-19.
As the region strengthens and builds the institutions established during the pandemic, a window of opportunity will be seized to position Africa as a health and biotechnology investment destination.
In this regard, the Panel outlined a plan to actively mobilise investment into African biotech whilst securing a market for African products.
President Ramaphosa thanked the Expert Panel for the progressive agenda and impactful work that was being done, not only to strengthen the continental response to COVID-19 but also to secure future health resilience for the continent: “I am in full agreement with the tasks that you have set out and that the entities that have already been set up need to be strengthened and interlinked effectively with an African pandemic preparedness authority," said President Ramaphosa.
The President expressed his support and readiness to champion the work of the Expert Panel, and to table the interventions at the AU mid-year co-ordinating meeting. In summary there are 10 key strategic areas where the Expert Panel will intervene:
1. Lobby for a treaty towards the African Pandemic Preparedness and Response Authority (APPRA) and the establishment of a supporting Fund
2. Facilitate meaningful African representation on the proposed collaboration towards a global pandemic preparedness treaty;
3. Recognition of and full endorsement of the PAVM by the AU;
4. Enhanced surveillance and antigen testing by deploying up to 200 million rapid diagnostic tests in the next 6 months;
5. Establishment of a central information open source platform for threat analysis and response;
6. Establishment of a National Public Health Institution in every member state;
7. Equitable access of all lifesaving COVID-19 tools through implementation studies of monoclonal antibodies and new therapeutics;
8. Position the region as an attractive health investment destination and mobilizing governments to buy African biotech;
9. The establishment of a high-level accountability panel or council, and
10. Evidence based development of a framework for action to combat the escalation of violence against women and girls and to recover sexual and reproductive health services Secretariat will make announcements relating to milestone events of these initiatives.
Issued by The African Union Covid-19 Champion, President Cyril Ramaphosa