AU to establish a response authority and fund to address Covid-19 on the continent

19 October 2021 - 15:16
AU champion on Covid-19 President Cyril Ramaphosa.
AU champion on Covid-19 President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Image: GCIS

In a bid to secure regional capacity to respond to subsequent waves of Covid-19 and future pandemics, a panel of health experts has decided to establish an African Pandemic Preparedness and Response Authority (APPRA) and Fund.

This was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday in his capacity as the AU Covid-19 champion.

“Having recognised the difficulties that Africa faced in a multilateral context, the experts introduced a bold plan to establish an African Pandemic Preparedness and Response Authority (APPRA) and Fund to secure the region’s capacity to respond to subsequent waves of Covid-19 and future pandemics,” Ramaphosa said.

The decision comes after a meeting Ramaphosa held with members of the secretariat and the leaders of working groups of the commission on Africa’s Covid-19 response strategy to discuss progress made by the expert panel last Wednesday.

The president said the panel of health experts, which has met since June 22, came together to identify gaps in the continental response strategy and propose evidence-based interventions as well as assess the social and economic harm caused by Covid-19 on the continent and propose ways for a strong recovery.

Ramaphosa said: “While the proposed global collaboration on pandemic preparedness was welcomed in principle, the Covid-19 pandemic exposed deep inequalities between wealthy and low- and middle-income countries that were not resolved through multilateralism.”

Therefore, he said it was clear to the experts that the region needed “an autonomous, coherent strategy to ensure it can independently protect its own people in the event of future outbreaks”.

Ramaphosa said the experts tabled a plan to reinforce the core Covid-19 response, adopting an approach to intensify surveillance by supporting Africa Centres for Disease Control’s deployment of 200-million rapid diagnostic tests across the continent, through a sentinel surveillance programme.

“In keeping with the World Health Organisation living guideline on case management of Covid-19, the experts will support accessibility of new life-saving therapeutics, such as monoclonal antibodies and interleukin-6, through an implementation study while simultaneously understanding their efficacy in the African context.”

On therapeutics, Ramaphosa said the team, through the Africa CDC, are intensifying efforts to close the oxygen capacity gap by targeting areas of need while engaging oxygen manufacturers.

“Regional intelligence gathering and sharing were highlighted as a key challenge on the continent. To address this the experts are exploring a public-private partnership to establish a central, open-source information platform for outbreaks that will co-ordinate data collection at the continental level, ideally in real time,” he said.

A close collaboration with the partnership on vaccine manufacturing (PAVM) has been established under the auspices of the AU through the Africa CDC, Ramaphosa said.

“While PAVM will continue to drive the vaccine enterprise agenda, the experts will provide support, strategic guidance, and political will behind some of the ... points of research & development, technology transfer and intellectual property rights.”

It will also anticipate and provide guidelines to mitigate against the pitfalls of a manufacturing boom, he said.

“As a cross-cutting issue, the experts will tackle the interrelated pandemics of gender-based violence and Covid-19 by evidence-based advocacy to reform laws and policies preceding and established during Covid-19 that frustrate the ability of women and girls to exercise autonomy over their bodies, particularly during crisis periods like Covid-19.”

Ramaphosa said as a key component, the experts will establish an evidence-based framework for enhancing accessibility to sexual and reproductive health services, which were deleteriously affected by the pressures of Covid-19.

“The Covid-19 pandemic sharply exposed the region’s lack of capacity to produce its own stock for crisis response. Therefore, the experts have resolved to respond to the clarion call to establish biotechnological sovereignty for the protection of Africans,” he said.

The panel outlined a plan to actively mobilise investment in African biotech while securing a market for African products, he said.

Ramaphosa said: “I am in full agreement with the tasks that you have set out and that the entities that have already been set up need to be strengthened and interlinked effectively with an African pandemic preparedness authority.”

He added that he supported and was ready to champion the work of the panel to table interventions at the AU midyear co-ordinating meeting.

The panel will intervene in 10 key strategic areas which include among others, to lobby for a treaty towards the APPRA and the establishment of a supporting fund. To facilitate meaningful African representation on the proposed collaboration towards a global pandemic preparedness treaty as well as recognition of and full endorsement of the PAVM by the AU.

In the next six months, there is a plan to enhance surveillance and antigen testing by deploying up to 200-million rapid diagnostic tests and establish a central information open source platform for threat analysis and response.

A national public health institute will also be established for member states and there will be equitable access of all life-saving Covid-19 tools through implementation studies of monoclonal antibodies and new therapeutics, he said.