Across the globe, the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has revealed two distinct, but not mutually exclusive realities – a picture perhaps most pronounced in Africa. The pandemic has shone a light on the existing challenges at the global, regional, national, and community levels stemming from persistent disparities—with the most vulnerable people and places incurring the greatest social and economic burden. The pandemic has also triggered much-needed political
will to accelerate long overdue progress in areas such as innovative financing and service delivery mechanisms, partnerships, and technology—from digital vaccine passports to genomic surveillance. Today, African institutions and stakeholders are demonstrating broad leadership across the technical and political dimensions of the public health agenda, setting the stage for the continent to lead on preparedness efforts in the future. In this context, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has emerged as a visionary and technically sound public health institution from a regional and global perspective– setting an ambitious pace for an innovative agenda in the years ahead.
The fast-changing COVID-19 landscape thrust the AU and Africa CDC into a pivotal leadership role at a time when global health governance failed to deliver equitably. The AU and Africa CDC acted out of necessity to mitigate the impact of leaving the most vulnerable populations and places in a cycle of deprivation and recovery. Together, they acted innovatively and adaptively to ensure continental resilience in the face of significant, systemic disruption. This response fundamentally redefined the continent’s role as a leader across many dimensions of public health. Working collaboratively with other regional and global actors, Africa CDC developed a cutting-edge and consequential agenda around vaccine acquisition and deployment to support member states and spearheaded unprecedented initiatives on areas such as manufacturing. Through these exemplary actions, the continent has shown what is possible with regional cooperation, and the importance of a strong heath-focused regional integration agenda while highlighting the importance of the AU in terms of its mandate and coordination capabilities.
These investments paid off in the early response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just days after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in mid-February 2020, the AU and the Africa CDC convened an emergency meeting of all ministers of health to agree on a Joint Continental Strategy. The strategy provided a coordinating framework whereby AU member states would cooperate, coordinate, and communicate their efforts; with implementation supported by a taskforce established by the Africa CDC. In early March 2020, as cases of COVID-19 spread across the continent, countries took immediate and pre-emptive actions, including implementing lockdowns and other social distancing measures to reduce transmission.
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