Africa Wants Debt Swaps to Support Countries’ Defences Against Pandemics
African leaders who attended at the high level meeting in Addis Ababa on Saturday.

African leaders want “explicit commitments” to debt relief and debt restructuring mechanisms, including debt swaps to support country-level pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPPR) in the pandemic agreement.

This is one of the continent’s demands, made on the eve of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) pandemic agreement talks, following a high-level meeting of African health ministers and diplomats on Saturday.

At the meeting, a key African Union (AU)  leader warned against postponing the adoption of a pandemic agreement, saying it might never be passed.

The pandemic agreement negotiations entered their final two-week phase in Geneva on Monday with 10 May as the deadline for what observers are describing as an “instrument of essentials” – a basic text that will be fleshed out by further talks in the next couple of years, as reported recently by Health Policy Watch.

The first communique from the African leaders’ Saturday meeting was withdrawn a few hours after its release. 

The new statement released on Monday was identical except it removed a reference to the Pandemic Fund in its call for “an international financing mechanism” to support countries’ pandemic-proofing efforts.

It also wants the accelerated “operationalisation of the financing of the African Epidemic Fund”.

Support for PABS

The continent supports a “multilateral pathogen access and benefit sharing system (PABS)” that provides legal certainty to users and providers and ensures improved access to pandemic-related health products and technologies.

The draft agreement proposes a WHO-coordinated PABS system but for the operational details of this contested proposal are to be finalised by May 2026.

Africa also wants “measures to establish regionally-distributed production of pandemic-related health products” and “commitments to organise and resource technical support” on all equity-related provisions. 

Pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response (PPPR) demands relate largely to national and regional responsibilities, with measures such as the enactment of “domestic laws providing for broad exemptions and limitations to intellectual property to address public health emergencies”, and supply chain diversification and logistics streamlining throughout the continent.

Africa also wants the various WHO-coordinated mechanisms in the agreement – such as on research and development and technology transfer – to be operationalised and accountable to the Conference of Parties, a multi-country structure which is set to govern the agreement.

“Africa stands ready to play its part and comments to engage actively in the ongoing negotiations and finalisation of the draft pandemic agreement,” the statement concludes.

AU warns against postponement

“I don’t think postponing an agreement is going to be in our interest because we may postpone forever. I look forward to us consolidating our common position today, consolidating our negotiating positions and ensuring that Africa’s interests are represented in the global pandemic agreement negotiations,” said AU deputy chairperson, Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa, during the opening of the ministerial meeting.

AU deputy chairperson Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa warns against delaying the agreement.

She also urged pragmatism when addressing the meeting on Saturday, explaining that several African demands – such as a seat at the G20 – had taken years to achieve.

“In some situations, we don’t have even a choice because we need to continue being pragmatic as we look for all conditions that can allow us some equity and some flexibilities and conducive conditions for us to do what we’ll have to do for ourselves,” she said.

She also warned of the likelihood of another COVID-like pandemic in the not so distant future, adding that it is “crucial that we work together to strengthen our collective preparedness and ensure that Africa’s voice is heard in global health discussions”.

While Africa’s negotiators wanted a win-win situation, in negotiations “there is always give and take”, said Nsanzabaganwa, who hails from Rwanda.

“We have also the duty to continue pressing for multilateralism to work.”

Meanwhile, Zambia’s health minister, Sylvia Masebo, who chairs the Africa CDC board, called on the African negotiators to ensure “equitable access to pandemic-related health products” and “increased access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, ensuring that no one is left behind”. 

Africa CDC Director-General Dr Jean Kaseya said that unity and a common African position in the negotiations was key.

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