The Commission on African COVID-19 Response has shone the spotlight on the immediate urgency of accelerating COVID-19 vaccine procurement and rollout on the continent through a unified approach.
The commissioners also emphasised the critical role of health systems strengthening and public health investments as the foundation of this intervention.
The commission, chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa and deputised by the Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Infection (Africa CDC), Dr John Nkengasong, held its inaugural meeting on Tuesday, 22 June 2021.
This comes after the African Union Bureau of Assembly of Heads of State and Government (AU Bureau) announced President Cyril Ramaphosa as the AU Champion on COVID-19.
This happened at the 34th Ordinary Session of the AU held on 6 February 2021, which led the South African President to establish the Commission on African COVID-19 Response.
“Despite the development of a vaccine, we are still a long way from permanently containing the pandemic, necessitating that African countries consolidate their cooperation and strengthen partnerships with all stakeholders in this crucial next phase,” President Ramaphosa said.
While many African countries are scrambling to secure life-saving vaccines to fight the spread of COVID-19, the officials believe that the commission has made great strides.
“The establishment of this commission recognises and advances the crucial role played by President Ramaphosa in driving the continental COVID-19 response during his tenure as Chair of the African Union in 2020.”
Meanwhile, the commissioners believe that critical milestones were attained, including developing and endorsing the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 Outbreak.
They also reflected on the establishment of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus (AFTCOR), the development and establishment of the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP).
The commissioners commended the formation of the COVID-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) to secure financing for and acquiring of vaccines.
“There has also been coordinating communications across the continent around COVID-19 as well as the contributions of the AU Bureau to the continental COVID-19 response and appointment of AU Special Envoys for the pandemic.”
The members once again reiterated their support for President Ramaphosa in his championship role to enable his continued leadership in guiding the continental response to COVID-19.
“The commission’s mandate is to identify gaps in the continental COVID-19 response strategy and propose evidence-based interventions within the scope of practice of the commission and generate evidence to assess the impact of COVID-19 on social and economic harm on the continent and propose ways to a strong recovery.”
Some of the specific areas of focus include the need to strengthen the public health workforce; continental manufacturing of diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics; results-oriented partnerships, and strengthening national public health institutions including the Africa CDC.
The statement said the inaugural meeting included guests from GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, United Nations Children’s Fund, Gates Foundation, and the Open Society Foundation.
This was done to galvanise support around innovative mechanisms to secure Africa’s position in the vaccine market to address the immediate urgency of securing COVID-19 jabs vaccines for the continent.
The Bureau said the commission will work within the established African Continental Strategy structures and will be supported by a Secretariat.
“Commissioners also emphasised the cross-cutting nature of gender-related issues across all the objectives set in the terms of reference.”
The commission’s output is expected to be tabled as a standing agenda item of the AU Bureau.