Exclusive: COVID-19 and hard lessons for Africa – ARC

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Robert Kwame deGraft Agyarko

Robert Kwame deGraft Agyarko, lead advisor, Outbreak and Epidemic, African Risk Capacity, ARC, based in South Africa, has more than 20 years experience in development and public health.  Agyarko, who holds a Master of Development degree from the University of Sussex, England, was the lead for Strategic Planning, Resource Mobilization and Partnerships with the World Health Organisation, WHO, Regional Office for Africa (2016) and technical adviser and coordinator of the Ghana Emergency Operations Centre (2015–2016). Also, the coordinator for West and Central Africa with the Africa Leaders Malaria Alliance (2010–2012), he was the adviser, the West and Central Africa Malaria for Unicef (2009–2010); manager, Global Fund Portfolio for South Africa and Namibia (2007–2009) and team coordinator for the Regional Malaria Technical Support for WHO Regional Office for Africa (2003–2007). He started his career as a technical officer and later coordinator at the Centre for the Development of People, Ghana (1993–1998) before joining WHO headquarters to work on the impact of HIV and AIDS on older persons (1999–2003).  Maureen Chigbo, editor, Realnews reached out to ARC via questionnaire to ascertain what the organisation is doing to help Africa cope with the adverse effect of disease. Below are Agyarko’s views on the serious global health challenges and what the ARC is doing to mitigate the negative effects in Africa. Excerpts.

Realnews: What is the position of African Risk Capacity on the coronavirus pandemic?

Agyarko: ARC sees this as a serious global health challenge, and joins forces with countries and partners to support action that leads to saving lives and ensuring population health. While we don’t have an active presence on the frontlines, in the two pilot countries where ARC has been developing an outbreaks epidemic programme (Guinea and Uganda), we contribute to strategic and operational activities in the Covid-19 response through the O&E technical working groups based in country.

RealnewsWith the coronavirus ravaging the whole world, what is the African Risk Capacity doing at the moment to mitigate the adverse effect of the disease in Africa?

Agyarko: Our advice to countries is to follow the recommendations of the World Health Organisation and Africa Centre for Disease Control, CDC, to strengthen their public response. Countries must focus on protection of the population, promotion of good health messages and practices, and actions to prevent infections and spread of the virus.  These actions must include active testing and improve laboratory functions for rapid results, contact tracing and surveillance of suspected cases, treatment of confirmed cases and implementation of social distancing, including lockdowns when deemed necessary.

ARC is about to launch an insurance product to address outbreaks and epidemics such as this. The full product suit will include Coronavirus, Ebola, Marburg, Meningitis and Lassa fever, The O&E product will be launched with insurance for these four and coronaviruses, insurance cover to commence 2021

Realnews: In monetary terms how much will Africa need to curb the health and economic impact of the pandemic?

Agyarko: It is going to be difficult to estimate this, since the epidemic is still unfolding.  However, the economic projections from the World Bank, WB, International Monetary Fund, IMF, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, UNECA, and the African Union, AU, all point to negative growth of 3-8 percent points. This may translate according to another estimate by the McKinsey group to a best-case scenario of around $90 billion and worse-case scenario of $200 billion for 2020. On the economic recovery side, African ministers have already called for as much as US$100 billion stimulus package for 2020 to help in the economic recovery. Each country is doing its bid. For example, the government of Ghana made available $100 million for covid-19. The financial effects of this pandemic will be felt over a few years, long after the health component is over.

Realnews: Did the African Risk Capacity early warning system see this coronavirus pandemic coming and did it warn African governments?

Agyarko: Frankly, no one saw this coming. However, in line with the WHO’s and other health agencies advise, as well as recent events, all point to one thing. These unexpected diseases occur, and we must prepare. Individual countries, and the world as a whole must invest in action that will prepare us for these eventualities. According to the WHO, investing 28.9 billion USD in health emergencies preparedness and response would avert 1.5 million deaths and generate 240 billion USD in economic gains globally over the period 2019-2023. In addition, the rapid containment of acute outbreaks and the reduced need of resources for case management would generate 3.7 and 3.3 billion USD in cost savings respectively.

Realnews: How do you view the preparedness of African countries to handle the pandemic?

Agyarko: As must be expected, the level of preparedness in African countries differ. The WHO’s Joint evaluation of preparedness of epidemic prone diseases shows a mixed bag of different levels. However, it is from what is happening that all African countries have taken this pandemic serious and have put in place robust response actions which have contributed to the low numbers of covid-19 in Africa.

Realnews: What did African governments do to prepare if the early warning system of ARC alerted them of the coming pandemic?

Agyarko: ARC is collaborating with Africa CDC and other partners to model the impact of Covid-19 on African countries. The model will provide continuous monitoring and forecasting of the disease progress to inform ARC member states and interested stakeholders. We are also actively involved in the national response efforts of Uganda and Guinea. We are also building a web-based decision support tool simulating the expected impact of different public health interventions. The tool will be a simple interface allowing non-expert users to run the model and visualize the results. The tool will include also access to COVID-19 case statistics reported by countries with daily update, presented with easy to read and understand infographics (including maps).

Realnews: Ghana has already reached out to the International Monetary Fund, IMF, for help to cope with the pandemic. Is this the right step to take? Should they not be working with ARC to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on their country?

Agyarko: The Ghanaian Government has already voted $100 million to Covid-19, and I believe it is doing its best to use internal as well as external resources available to it for this important challenge. ARC’s Outbreaks and Epidemics product will be available to support countries from next year, and will cover Ebola, Marburg, Lassa Fever, Meningitis and now Coronaviruses.

Realnews: What lessons is the world learning from this coronavirus pandemic onslaught?

Agyarko: A major lesson from this is that we should invest in our health systems and build the capacity to meet these challenges in the future. According to the WHO, investing 28.9 billion USD in health emergencies preparedness and response would avert 1.5 million deaths and generate 240 billion USD in economic gains globally over the period 2019-2023. In addition, the rapid containment of acute outbreaks and the reduced need of resources for case management would generate 3.7 and 3.3 billion USD in cost savings, respectively.

Realnews: How would you rate the reaction of African countries to the pandemic. How do you rate their response to the challenge posed by coronavirus?

Agyarko: I think our governments have shown good leadership, and have been proactive, regional institutions such as WHO Africa, Africa CDC, World Food Programme, WFP, etc have all come together to ensure governments meet this challenge squarely. The low numbers on the continent are a testament of the proactiveness and leadership that African counties have taken.

Realnews: How many African countries are working with ARC at the moment to check the pandemic?

Agyarko: The first thing to establish is that the O&E product is developed, but not yet launched. While we don’t have an active presence on the frontlines, in the two pilot countries Guinea and Uganda, we contribute to strategic and operational activities in the Covid-19 response through the O&E technical working groups based in country. The O&E product to be launched, ARC will integrate a modelling we are conducting of Coronaviruses. The full product disease suit will therefore include Coronavirus, Ebola, Marburg, Meningitis and Lassa fever, The O&E product will be launched with insurance for these four and coronaviruses, insurance cover to commence 2021

Realnews: Would you say that African governments were caught unawares by the pandemic?

Agyarko: On the contrary, African countries have followed the recommendations of the World Health Organisation and Africa CDC, and their own MOHs and CDCs, for example Nigeria CDC, and have taken action to strengthen their public pillars. These include active testing and improve laboratory functions for rapid results, contact tracing and surveillance of suspected cases, treatment of confirmed cases and implementation of social distancing, including lockdowns when deemed necessary.

Governments have focused on: a) The public health response. The objective of the public health response is to save lives and ensure population welfare, including mental health. Efforts must include coordinated and efficient action for testing and improve laboratory functions for rapid results, contact tracing and surveillance of suspected cases, treatment of confirmed cases and implementation of social distancing.

  1. b) The economic recovery programmes. This must aim to support the most vulnerable and revive the economy. Actions here must include ensuring food security, support families and livelihoods, loans for small and medium businesses and stimulus package for economic recovery.

Realnews: We would like you to provide any other information you have on the pandemic that is not reflected in the information you have already given.

Agyarko: It is time countries invested in risk transfer mechanism such as provided by ARC to be able to have resources early in these circumstances to fight disease outbreaks. The O&E product to be launched by ARC will provide just that. As you are aware, ARC provides disaster risk financing and management support to African countries and has since its inception paid out over $60 million to insured countries to support them during droughts. We are about to launch an outbreaks and Epidemics component, which will include Coronaviruses. The package will include disease risk profiling, outbreak modelling, contingency planning, and risk transfer through Cat bond.  It will offer early payment during times of a disease outbreak to enable the country respond faster and more effective and therefore limit the size and impact of outbreaks and lower the economic impact.

– Apr. 8, 2020 @ 18:55 GMT |

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