‘Saving lives and livelihoods’ – AfDB’s reflection on one year of the Covid-19 Response Facility

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The African Development Bank headquarters in Abidjan, Cote dÍvoire
The African Development Bank headquarters in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire

Easter Kumbana knew the novel coronavirus was a deadly and highly contagious disease, but he could not afford the basic items needed to protect himself and his family from it.

“I had no money to buy face masks and hand sanitizers because the little money I had was needed to feed my children,” said Kumbana, a resident of Kanyama, an impoverished community on the outskirts of the Zambian capital Lusaka.

Kumbana and other Africans were at the heart of the African Development Bank’s multi-billion dollar Covid-19 Response Facility announced a year ago. The goal was to help millions across the continent deal with the health and economic consequences of the pandemic.

Fortunately, an African Development Bank outreach program in Zambia in which thousands of face masks and hand sanitizers were distributed to vulnerable communities provided Kumbana the needed protection.

The program also spread the message about the outbreak through a communications campaign that included radio advertisements and posters promoting social distancing.

“These are extraordinary times, and we must take bold and decisive actions to save and protect millions of lives in Africa,” Bank President Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina said when the Bank announced the Covid-19 Response Facility. “We are in a race to save lives and we will leave no country behind.”

At the time, there were around 3,000 coronavirus cases on the continent. A year later, the number of infections has surpassed four million, with more than 118,000 lives lost. The focus is now on vaccine justice for Africans.

Only two percent of Africans have received Covid-19 vaccines, mostly under the COVAX initiative, which is the primary source of novel coronavirus vaccines in Africa. The African Union estimates that at least 60 percent of the continent’s population need to be vaccinated in order to develop herd immunity and to prevent the disease from becoming endemic.

Aside from the health impact, the continent is also grappling with its worst economic recession in half a century. About 30 million Africans were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020 as a result of the pandemic and it is estimated that another 39 million Africans could fall into extreme poverty in 2021, according to Bank analysts.

By April 1, 2021, the Bank had approved a total of US$4.1 billion for all operations under the Covid-19 Response Facility, and disbursed a total of US$3.7 billion (90 percent overall disbursement). Funding has also gone to the World Health Organization, which received US$2 million in emergency assistance to reinforce its capacity to help African countries contain the pandemic and mitigate its impacts.

A special US$20 million package went to the five Sahelian countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to strengthen their national capacities to stop the spread of Covid-19. It will also help them limit its social and economic impact. This is a region where the pandemic is causing an unprecedented emergency on top of multiple crises.

In the days before the African Development Bank’s response facility, it announced a US$3 billion social bond to support its Covid-19 funding efforts.

Apart from funding, the Bank has promoted policy and knowledge management events focusing on the disease and mitigating its impact across a variety of sectors. The Bank’s African Development Institute launched a series of informal discussions to help African countries deliver informed responses to the pandemic. Topics have included health, regional integration and agriculture policies.

Kevin Urama, senior director of the African Development Institute, said the sessions bring together global experts from around the world to offer “reality checks for each policy option proffered.”

“Our objective is to build more resilient African economies in the post Covid-19 world,” Urama said. – African Development Bank

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