Africa’s New COVID-19 Disaster Recovery Framework – Aims To Improve Response To Future Pandemics
A quiet street Cape Town, in South Africa, during one of the hard lockdown periods in 2020 to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

The African Union Commission (AUC) is developing a COVID-19 Disaster Recovery Framework to guide its member states on how to respond effectively and in a timely manner to future pandemics – as well as other health emergency risks.

The framework, still in the initial stages of development, will soon be shared with the AUC’s 55 member states and regional organisations, and would become operational sometime in 2022, according to Kai Gatkuoth, technical coordinator for Disaster Risk Reduction at the AU’s Directorate of Rural Economy and Agriculture, in an interview with Health Policy Watch.

Both the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Swedish Government are providing technical and financial support for the AU Disaster Risk Reduction Unit to help realize this objective.

Multi-hazard Warning System Will Predict Potential Outbreaks

In a related development,  the AUC is also in the process of developing a multi-hazard warning system that aims to link natural hazards, pandemics and pests and diseases as well as conflict. 

Large parts of eastern Africa as well as the horn of Africa were plagued over the past year by swarms of locusts, for instance,  as a result of unusually heavy desert rainfall – creating significant disruptions in food production.  

The multi-hazard warning system will be instrumental in predicting such potential outbreaks of  environment and climate related and health events, critical in mobilizing resources for effective response efforts. 

A new multi-hazard warning system will seek to show a clear linkage between natural hazards, pandemics and pests and diseases as well as conflict.

“Operationalization of the system is expected by December this year, upon meeting a number of milestones,” Gatkuoth told Health Policy Watch in the interview.

The milestones include conducting a study on existing early warning systems to assess good practices, as well as what to expect in terms of challenges and opportunities such a system may present.

New Initiatives To Complement Existing African Risk Capacity  

The new warning system comes in addition to ongoing efforts being carried out through the African Risk Capacity (ARC) – a specialised agency of the African Union, set up to help African governments improve their capacities to better plan, prepare and respond to extreme weather events and natural disasters.

So far, 11 countries have contributed more than $50 million to the ARC over the last nine years. However, with the anticipated multi-hazard system becoming operational soon, “countries are expected to increase domestic financing,” says Gatkuoth.

He said the new programme is expected to cost more than $50 million over the next five years – and will need the support of a new financial mechanism, such as a multi-hazard disaster risk management fund, said Gatkuoth. 

One Health Approach – Urgent Action Needed Now

The links between environmental and climate change and the spread of disease is becoming ever more important in addressing health concerns around the world, other experts emphasize, in arguing for the new systems’ urgency. 

“If we do not do anything now, we will see more intense and frequent extreme events that will impact on more vulnerable people,” Dr. Ben Adinoyi, the Coordinator Health Care at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) told Health Policy Watch.

Dr. Adinoyi points to The Cost of Doing Nothing – a 2019 report by the IFRC – which showed that the number of people needing humanitarian assistance every year as a result of climate-related disasters could rise from 108 million to beyond 200 million by 2050, if nothing is done.

The IFRC’s Community Epidemic and Pandemic Preparedness Program (CP3), is also working closely with both the ministries of health and ministries of agriculture in Africa to incorporate a One Health approach into the CP3 initiative.

Such approaches aim to improve the human-animal environment interface, so as to reduce the spread of what are fundamentally zoonotic diseases from wilderness areas and wild animal populations into human communities. Most major disease outbreaks in Africa over the past few decades, originated including Ebola and HIV, emerged from wild animal sources. Similarly, the SARS-CoV2 virus is believed to have originated in bats, which may have infected wild mammals such as pangolins, widely consumed in Asia for food. 

“IFRC has also formed a climate and health working group which brings together experts from various disciplines including climate scientists and health practitioners,” adds Eddie Jjemba, the Urban Resilience Advisor at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

Adinoyi said the effects of pandemics in general, but COVID-19 in particular, cuts across all facets of human existence, therefore making the need for multisectoral collaboration and coordination even more urgent.

“That is why the IFRC coordinates and collaborates closely with regional economic communities,” he says, adding that the humanitarian organization also works with the African Union, the Africa CDC and the WHO to ensure alignment of priorities to global, regional and national commitments and goals.

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