U.S.-AU COVID-19 Response in Africa

Banner US AU

From L to R: Amb. Jessye Lapenn, U.S. Ambassador to the African Union, H.E. Amira Elfadil, Commissioner for Social Affairs, African Union Commission, Dr. John N. Nkengasong, Director, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Margaret Agama-Anyetei, Head of Health, Population & Nutrition, Department of Social Affairs, African Union Commission

Thank you for attending the U.S.-AU COVID-19 Response in Africa webinar. Please find notes below.

On Wednesday, April 15, 2020, the U.S.-Africa Business Center (USAfBC) at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) co-hosted a webinar on the African Union’s (AU’s) COVID-19 Response in Africa.  The webinar highlighted the AU’s plans to support member states, how the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is leading the continent's pandemic response, and the U.S. government’s response effort.  The discussion was moderated by Scott Eisner, Senior Vice President at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and President of the USAfBC and CCA’s President and CEO, Florie Liser. 

U.S. Ambassador to the AU Jessye Lapenn began the discussion by introducing the African Medicines Agency (AMA) as part of the long-term solution to address health challenges on the continent.  A specialized agency of the AU, the AMA aims to enhance the capacity of member states and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to regulate medical products, increase their accessibility, and improve access to medical information (much like the U.S. FDA). She highlighted Africa CDC as a critical player in coordinating the continental response to COVID-19.  According to the Ambassador, challenges in providing medical supplies are global, and healthcare systems in Africa are stretched thin, but the AU has been doing its part to advise African leaders.  The U.S. Mission to the AU (USAU) has been supportive and is available to help facilitate engagements between U.S. companies and the AU.  The Ambassador encouraged companies to contact the U.S. Mission to the AU via:  directlineusau@state.gov. 

AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Amira Elfadil, spoke to the shared global responsibility in responding to COVID-19 and briefed on the AMA.  To date, 15 countries have signed the treaty establishing the AMA, but only two (Mali and Rwanda) have ratified.  Fifteen African countries need to ratify the treaty before the AU can begin the process to identify a country to host the headquarters of the AMA.  Commissioner Elfadil explained African government leaders approved a continental strategy to mitigate the impacts of the virus and emphasized Africa CDC is the leading the continent’s response under the strategy.  Dr. Margaret Agama-Anyetei, Head of Health, Nutrition and Population Division, Social Affairs Department, AU Commission (AUC), emphasized the involvement of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development – AU Development Agency (NEPAD-AUDA) in the advocacy for and ratification of the AMA.  Commissioner Elfadil welcomed private sector representatives to contact the AU to develop partnerships in support of Africa CDC and the AMA.

Africa CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong described the Africa CDC’s continental response plan to limit transmission, minimize deaths, and mitigate harm caused by the virus.  Dr. Nkengasong said Africa CDC provided an early response to the spread of COVID-19 in Africa, and implemented preventative measures by equipping labs early on and shipping 80,000 COVID-19 test kits.  As of April 15, 52 member states reported over 16,000 cases with over 800 deaths.  While the current infection rates may appear relatively low compared to other parts of the world, he cautioned against complacency and said testing had not yet achieved scale.  The virus’ impact has spread extremely rapidly elsewhere in the world and the number of cases has doubled in Africa in the previous week. The coming weeks will be “very determinant” for the continent.  To “have a fighting chance,” Africa needs an expansion of testing for member states, healthcare worker protection, strong partnerships for supply chain management, and rapid preparation of medical facilities for a potential catastrophe.  In the coming weeks, Africa CDC will launch an initiative called Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing.  

Final remarks given by Ms. Liser encouraged partnership in helping fight against COVID-19.  Mr. Eisner moderated questions and answers from more than 250 participants and reiterated the Chamber’s support for private sector engagement with the AU on the COVID-19 response effort.  Ambassador Lapenn closed the webinar by reiterating USAU’s continued commitment to facilitating deeper engagement between the United States and Africa.