COVID’s Aftershocks: Could we have prevented this?

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A roundup of the latest news, stats, and analysis of COVID-19’s impact in Africa. View our data tracker and sign up for our weekly newsletter, and read on for the latest on the vaccine cold war, how women are leading the recovery, and the “news deserts” created by the pandemic. 

Top news

We didn’t have to do this: The pandemic could have been prevented. So said the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, chaired by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who presented their recommendations during a virtual event. The panel of experts suggested the creation of a Global Health Threats Council, and International Pandemic Financing Facility with predictable funding of $5-10 billion a year.

Vaccine (cold) war: Last week, WHO approved emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine from China’s state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm. China has exported more COVID vaccines (240 million doses) than all other countries put together. This nod from WHO positions China to more credibly leave the US and EU in the dust on vaccine diplomacy. Its main competitor, the US, has exported very little so far. The US has pledged to donate 60 million doses from its stockpile of AstraZeneca in the coming months — but has also imposed curbs on the export of the raw materials needed to produce the vaccines. This prompted criticism from French President Emmanuel Macron.

Cash, care, data: Amidst high-level discussions about the need for major stimulus packages from Special Drawing Rights and support for multilateral development banks, far too few are talking about how this money is used to support women and girls. CGD has a good proposal to focus on women’s economic empowerment through investing in cash, care, data, and leadership. It is pushing the World Bank to embed this as part of its plan to replenish its largest funding instrument, the International Development Association.

Competence rules!: COVID has shown us that competent leadership is a life-and-death issue. And the most competent leaders have been women. Here’s one you might not know. In her three years as mayor of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr has transformed sanitation, vaccinated the city’s dogs to address the spread of rabies, supported 500 people in urban farming, and refurbished the city’s market.

Fund gender data: Funding for gender data is in a state. So said Data2X, the Gender Data initiative, and Open Data Watch this week. 0.05% of COVID-19 aid has been focused on gender statistics. Only two of the 74 poorest countries conduct household surveys at an adequate frequency to be useful. For a proper picture of how poverty, malnutrition, economic growth, and unpaid care are affecting women and girls, we need an annual investment of $500 million.

Informal consequences: 70% of total employment is in the informal sector in emerging and developing economies, according to a new book from the World Bank. That makes up nearly one-third of GDP, and women make up most of this employment. This undermines countries’ ability to raise revenue, but also means the pandemic is hitting them harder because of a lack of access to safety nets. Learn more in our blog about COVID-19’s toll on women’s work.

Cash in hand: Remittances remained strong during the pandemic, according to the World Bank, defying predictions. Excluding Nigeria, remittance flows to sub-Saharan Africa increased by 2.3%. Zambia saw a 37% rise, Mozambique 16%, Kenya 9%, and Ghana 5%. In 2021, a rise of 2.6% is predicted as rich countries open up. Nigeria showed a different story, with flows falling 28%.

Black fungus: Doctors in India are reporting a rash of (typically rare) bacterial infections among recovered and recovering COVID-19 patients. It’s believed to be connected to COVID-19 steroid treatments. Severe infections, which affect the eye, nose, and brain, are most common among immuno-compromised individuals — a major concern for Africa given the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS.

Forgotten crisis: HIV testing has fallen 41% compared to 2019, according to a recent ⁦‪Global Fund‬⁩ survey of 500+ health facilities across Africa and Asia. The Washington Post’s Editorial Board reminds us that despite major progress on preventable diseases like Malaria and HIV/AIDS, when you neglect them, they come back.

Half-hearted: Despite reiterating its commitment to fully participate in the Common Framework, China maintains that it is the responsibility of debtors to report on their debt — despite evidence of restrictive confidentiality clauses. So far three countries — Zambia, Ethiopia, and Chad — have called for support from the framework. But Chad’s political unrest threatens progress. Elsewhere, Uganda secured a $900 million loan from the IMF, and Tunisia expects to reach a deal with the fund within three months.

Cumulative losses: As rich countries open their economies, a tightening of economic policy may result in outflows and debt distress in emerging markets. So said the Group of Thirty eminent economists, including AU COVID-19 envoy Tidjane Thiam and ONE board member Larry Summers. They estimate that while the US faces cumulative GDP losses of 5% by 2024, Africa is looking at 28% losses. The group recommends beefing up the G20’s Common Framework and the multilateral development banks and, crucially, that rich countries should “recycle” the two-thirds of the $650 billion SDRs from the latest issuance that will likely sit idle.

Copper lining, cloud: Last week, we reported that soaring copper prices could help Zambia’s ailing economy. This week, Zambia is reporting a bumper corn crop. But this could be bad news for the country’s debt restructuring, which is making progress through the G20s’s Common Framework, if it reduces pressure for the president to reach a deal with the IMF before the August elections.

Jubilee: The IMF on Monday cleared Sudan’s arrears of $1.3 billion to the institution. The country could qualify for an 85% reduction of its $50 billion debt by June if it implements economic reforms. Credit to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and to the US and UK for playing an important role in helping ease the crippling debt burden left by Omar al-Bashir, who led the country for 29 years until his death in 2019.

News deserts: The UN has warned of creeping news deserts, where journalists are unable to get accurate information to the public — a problem ONE’s Africa Tracker was built to help solve. Namibia ranks best among African countries for press freedom. The country comes in 24th globally on the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. In fact, World Press Freedom Day has its origins in the country with the Windhoek Declaration, agreed 30 years ago last week. But African journalists were hit hard in 2020, suffering three times as many attacks and arrests from 15 March to 15 May as during the same period in 2019.

The numbers

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