Ethiopian Diaspora High-Level Advisory Council on the COVID-19 Pandemic
A series of important documents were produced and released by the recently established Ethiopian Diaspora High Level Advisory Council on the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ethiopia. The Council, launched in the USA, is composed of experts in medicine, virology, public health, economics and law. The attached links outline a plan of action and various recommendations on measures to be taken to minimize the deleterious effects of COVID-19 on the Ethiopian public.
COVID-19, caused by a novel (new) coronavirus, is ravaging the world claiming thousands of lives; causing tremendous social disruptions and economic loss; and threatening political and security crises. In Africa, COVID-19 represents a ticking time bomb – cases are rising now doubling every week. As of April 12, 2020, Africa has reported 13,814 cases and 747 deaths from 52 of the 55 countries while Ethiopia has reported 71 cases and 3 deaths. Africa may be 4-8 weeks behind Europe and the United States — this precious lead time must not be squandered!
There is no reason to think that a similar exponential trajectory observed in other countries will not ensue in Africa though its young population may keep death and hospitalization rates relatively low. That is, when COVID-19 takes hold in Africa’s densely populated neighborhoods and meets the already overstretched weak health system (limited hospital beds and ICUs) and vulnerable population (immunocompromised, high TB rates, malnutrition), it is bound to cause far more deaths and suffering; it will be a challenge to manage and control. Like what was observed during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, more deaths from non-COVID-19 causes are likely including from the economic impact of measures to suppress the pandemic as social distancing is instituted, healthcare workers and resources are diverted, and supply chain is compromised.
Addis Ababa is the epicenter of this pandemic in Ethiopia. As the political capital of Ethiopia and Africa, Addis Ababa is mission critical. It is the headquarter of the African Union (AU), UN Economic Commission for Africa (UN-ECA), and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). A number of international organizations have their regional offices including UNDP, UNESCO, and the European Economic Commission (EEC) as well as missions including the US Mission to the African Union. The African Union, for instance, is the center of African diplomacy while Africa CDC is the one coordinating the response to COVID-19 in the continent – disruptions in their operations will have tangible and intangible impacts on the continent.
Addis Ababa’s 6-7 million residents are vulnerable – both those employed in the informal sector living on daily wages and those in the formal sector challenged with job loss from COVID’s impact on travel, tourism, hospitality industry, import, and export. The government believes a drastic lockdown, that has worked in places like Wuhan to control the pandemic, will be difficult to enact in a city that has a great majority of its residents leading a hand- to-mouth existence without external support. Serious economic fall out on the citizenry could lead to lawlessness – this will in turn impact the diplomatic community.
Meeting the challenges of COVID-19 will require bold African leadership and decisive actions at continental, national, and community levels. This must be complemented by prompt actions from global leaders and multilateral and bilateral financial institutions — without whom Africa will have difficulty defeating the virus and mitigating the impact to its economy. Global solidarity is a must — African countries do not have adequate safety nets, fiscal reserves to compensate or a population with savings to withstand COVID-19’s assault on the economy. Food insecurity will worsen; terrorism may thrive; and lingering infection in Africa will continue to seed new coronavirus infections in the developed world.
When it comes to COVID-19, the fates of Africa, Ethiopia, and Addis Ababa are intertwined as is the fate of the globe at large. Africa, Ethiopia, and Addis Ababa cannot afford to not control the pandemic. Though it is preferred if aggressive public health measures (testing, contact tracing, measured social distancing, universal masking) can control the pandemic so the economy impact is averted or at least minimized, countries must plan to institute the draconian measures when called for. The longer COVID-19 lingers, the harder the economic impact and recovery. Government actions must match the speed of the virus –- business as usual is deadly!!
The Advisory Council recommends that Ethiopia strengthens its COVID-19 continental
leadership, solidarity with African nations for collective action, and engage the diplomatic community to support the COVID-19 pandemic response in Africa and Ethiopia
H.E. the Prime Minister of Ethiopia’s submission to the Extraordinary G20 Leaders’ Summit and his initiative with the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma are two examples of continental leadership and African solidarity that should be commended, encouraged, and supported. The latter secured needed supplies for the COVID-19 response in Africa: each Member State received 20,000 laboratory diagnostic test kits, 100,000 medical masks, and 1,000 protective suits and face shields and Ethiopian Airlines delivered the supplies.
- Continue to proactively play a leadership role in the continent including in partnership with the African Union and Africa CDC harnessing the political will and solidarity of African leadership to mount collective, rapid, and effective continental actions.
- Given the fact that Africa CDC is HQed in Addis Ababa and is charged with coordinating the response to the pandemic across the continent, Ethiopia should define and formalize a partnership with Africa CDC at the highest levels to support the COVID-19 response in Ethiopia and Africa. Facilitate a meeting between H.E. the PM and the Director of Africa CDC, Dr. John Nkengasong, for this purpose working through appropriate channels including the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, and H.E. Minister Lia Tadesse.
- Convene, advocate, and discuss with the relevant global partners about leveraging for COVID-19 response the investments, infrastructure, and platforms built for responding to infectious diseases (malaria, and HIV/AIDS, and TB) and outbreaks (Ebola) in laboratory testing, epidemiologic investigations, and community mobilization. The recent creation by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria a new mechanism to channel donor resources to fight COVID-19 in hard hit countries and protect gains in global AIDS, TB, and malaria responses is one such great example.
- Continue to dialogue and pressure the IMF, World Bank, Africa Development Bank, and major funding nations to put forward a viable economic package for Africa for COVID-19 response and recovery afterwards.
- Convene, consult, and discuss with the diplomatic community the current state of the pandemic and mitigation and suppression plans in Addis Ababa and Ethiopia. As a host, Ethiopia has the responsibility to inform the community who are residents of Addis Ababa and in turn, the community has a stake to see the pandemic under control to minimize the impact on the lives of the community and their operations. The diplomatic community can leverage internal and external resources including with their home offices to support the country and city COVID-19 Plan of Action: provision of test kits, personal protective equipment (PPEs), and other supplies and technology (data systems) and technical assistance.
- Given the health sector response is key to avert or minimize the economic impact from COVID-19, provide decisive leadership, support, and oversight to the Ministry of Health and respective regional entities to ensure that the health sector has the resources it needs, acting speedily, and coordinated to get the pandemic under control – adhering to the “Three Ones” principles: one agreed COVID-19 national action framework; one national coordinating authority; and one monitoring and evaluation system. The required public health measures required cannot be enacted as business as usual but as wartime efforts like 24/7 Emergency Operation Center, widespread testing, isolation of the infected, finding every contact, and quarantining with enforcements.
- Garner the Ethiopian and diplomatic community as well as domestic and international financial support for the most draconian but effective pandemic suppression strategy as the last resort if the public health measures fail to control the pandemic – lockdown or stay-at-home – that has massive economic costs especially on the poor.