How to avoid a ‘limping recovery’ from COVID

Vera Songwe is executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa. We interviewed her as part of our #PassTheMic campaign. Here’s some of what she had to say.

One of the biggest economic challenges we are currently seeing is that 50 million people are losing their jobs. So a coordinated global response to coronavirus would ensure that we get back to recovery faster.

My personal priority right now is Africa and getting its growth back. It’s getting the private sector back on its feet, so we can get people back to work.

Of course, we need private sector participation in this. We also need the special drawing rights, which is essentially ensuring that countries have foreign exchange access and the private sectors have more liquidity.

As a whole, it would be good if we could focus on more equitable growth going forward. We have asked for a global debt standstill, which will help countries tackle the pandemic and get their economies back on track.

The risk if there isn’t a global response economically is that we will have a “limping recovery.” So if two countries take off and the rest of us are struggling behind, we won’t get the overall liftoff we need. What is clear is that we are interconnected, and so one country lifting off and others lagging behind is not going to help.

The danger if there isn’t a global coordinated response to coronavirus is that we’ll never get out of this thing and we’ll never really grow again. Because we will keep having bouts of it here and there, and we will be destined to live in this world of uncertainty.

The important thing is just to realise we’re all, in some very weird way, responsible. The actions of each person affects the well-being of the whole. So if ever there was something bringing us together, it’s how we respond to this.

Refreshing innovation

Making sure that we collaborate once we find the vaccine so that we can all have access is going to be an important next step. Because the other problem we’re worried about is that once the vaccine comes, it will be prohibitive for developing countries.

Something else that’s keeping me optimistic is that Africa’s private sector has been quite resilient. It hasn’t been easy, but they have managed to change their production facilities to make hand sanitisers and PPE equipment.

Most importantly, the biggest piece of optimism I have is that there is a laboratory in Senegal that is producing test kits that can give you results in 65 minutes, at a dollar a test kit. So it’s making it accessible for more people.

The kind of innovation we’re seeing in the technological space from Africa’s youth is amazing and refreshing.

These excerpts from the interview were edited for length and clarity.

Hear more from experts in our #PassTheMic campaign, where global health experts take over celebrities’ social media channels to share the data, facts, and science we need to know to end COVID-19. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more.

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