Cyril Ramaphosa appointed AU’s 'Covid-19 champion'

24 June 2021 - 17:01 By amanda khoza
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President Cyril Ramaphosa was recognised by the AU for his efforts in fighting the coronavirus.
President Cyril Ramaphosa was recognised by the AU for his efforts in fighting the coronavirus.
Image: GCIS

In recognition of President Cyril Ramaphosa's efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the AU Bureau of Assembly of Heads of States and Government appointed him its champion on Covid-19.

The appointment was initially made at the 34th ordinary session of the AU held on February 6, the Presidency said on Thursday.

After his appointment, Ramaphosa established the commission on African Covid-19 response, which he chairs. His deputy is Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

Acting presidency spokesperson Tyrone Seale said: “The establishment of this commission recognises and advances the crucial role played by President Ramaphosa in driving the continental Covid-19 response during his tenure as chair of the AU in 2020.”

He said some of the milestones attained include:

  • the development and endorsement of the Africa joint continental strategy for the Covid-19 outbreak; 
  • the establishment of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus (Aftcor);
  • the development and establishment of the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP);
  • the establishment of the Covid-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (Avatt) to secure financing for and acquire vaccines;
  • attaining co-ordinated communications across the continent on Covid-19 matters; and
  • the contributions of the AU Bureau to the continental Covid-19 response and the appointment of special envoys for the pandemic.

“The commission’s overarching goal is to support the president in his championship role to enable his continued leadership in guiding the continental response to Covid-19,” Seale said.

It was to do this by identifying gaps in the continental Covid-19 response strategy and proposing evidence-based interventions within the scope of practice of the commission.

It was also tasked with generating evidence to assess the impact of Covid-19 on social and economic harm on the continent and proposing how to achieve a strong recovery.

“Some of the specific areas of focus in the commission’s work include the need to strengthen the public health workforce, continental manufacturing of diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics, results-orientated partnerships, and strengthening national public health institutions, including the Africa CDC.”

To address the immediate urgency of securing vaccines for the continent, Seale said, the inaugural meeting, which took place on June 22, included invited guests from vaccine alliance Gavi, the UN Children's Fund, the Gates Foundation and the Open Society Foundation, to galvanise support for innovative mechanisms to secure Africa’s position in the vaccine market.

The commission has five working groups facilitated by Nkengasong. Seale said their tasks include:

  • supporting the work of Avatt to access safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines for the continent and the manufacturing of health security-related commodities;
  • supporting the work of the AU in health, social and economic recovery, in alignment with the work of the regional economic communities (RECs), the member states and the work of the AU special envoys, using evidence-based approaches;
  • conducting research and tabling recommendations for managing the ‘twin pandemics’ of gender-based violence and Covid-19 in Africa; and
  • describing and analysing the societal impact of Covid-19 through research; and
  • providing recommended interventions to eradicate stigma and discrimination faced by individuals, families and communities as a result of Covid-19.

The groups will also identify funding sources to finance the work of the commission.

Seale said members of the commission represent a cross-section of society, including civil society, academia, the scientific community, the public health sector, the medical fraternity, the private sector, and development finance institutions.

The commission will work within the established African continental strategy structures and will be supported by a secretariat.

The commissioners highlighted the urgency of accelerating vaccine procurement and rollout on the continent through a unified approach, and emphasised the critical role of strengthening health systems and investing in public health as the foundation of this intervention.

“Despite the development of a vaccine, we are still a long way from permanently containing the pandemic, necessitating that African countries consolidate their co-operation and strengthen partnerships with all stakeholders in this crucial next phase,” said Ramaphosa.

The commissioners, who hail from various African countries, include SA’s Prof Salim Abdool Karim and Dr Patrick Tippoo.


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