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Strive Masiyiwa, Dangote Group, Safaricom… Africa’s private sector leads the fight against Covid

Ifeanyi M. Nsofor
By Ifeanyi M. Nsofor

Dr Ifeanyi M. Nsofor is a Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University. He is CEO of EpiAFRIC and Director Policy and Advocacy at Nigeria Health Watch. You can follow him on Twitter @ekemma.

Posted on Wednesday, 5 May 2021 18:25

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine is offloaded at the O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, February 27, 2021. Kim Ludbrook/Pool via REUTERS

Private sector organisations are unsung heroes in healthcare delivery across Africa, and they should be recognised and celebrated. Whether formal or informal organisations, the private sector contributes to improving health across the continent.

Notably, Africa’s exemplary Covid-19 response would not be so successful without the participation of the private sector. Their support has spanned Covid-19 prevention, diagnostics, therapeutics and emergency care.

At the peak of hoarding of Covid-19 commodities such as personal protective equipment by richer western nations, the ingenuity of the private sector resulted in the establishment of the Africa Medical Supply Platform (AMSP).

AMSP is led by the African Union Special Envoy, the Zimbabwean billionaire, Strive Masiyiwa and supported by private, philanthropic partners. It has now become a marketplace for linking African governments with manufacturers of Covid-19 commodities, including PPEs, therapeutics, diagnostics, cold chain and vaccines.

Through the AMSP, African governments can now pre-order Covid-19 vaccines. It is a testament to the power of community in responding to a global pandemic. It is safe to say that AMSP benefitted from its head being a successful private sector player with vast networks.

Access to drugs

Drugs for managing Covid-19 are important in ensuring that those infected and who suffer from severe illness can be better managed and provided relief.

One of the drugs known to be effective is Remdesivir – a brand spectrum antiviral drug. To ensure equity in the availability of this drug, the Gilead Sciences signed a non-exclusive voluntary licensing agreement with generic pharmaceutical manufacturers based in Egypt, India and Pakistan to manufacture and expand the supply of Remdesivir in 127 countries.

At least 48 of the 127 of the beneficiary countries are in Africa and most of them are low- and middle-income countries. The licenses are royalty-free until the WHO declares the end of the Public Health Emergency of International Concern regarding Covid-19, or until a pharmaceutical product other than Remdesivir or a vaccine is approved to treat or prevent Covid-19, whichever is earlier.

Private sector coalition

Nigeria

Nigeria is an example of where the private sector coalition against Covid-19 (CACOVID) played a major role in the country’s response. Members of the coalition include Dangote Group, Access Bank, BUA Group, Famfa Oil and many others… banks, media outlets, multinationals.

This coalition of private sector companies has raised more than $70m to support Nigeria’s Covid-19 response. CACOVID has supported establishment of Covid-19 isolation wards, establishment of laboratories, provision of palliatives to the poor, training of volunteers and health workers and advocacy.

Knowing the actual burden of Covid-19 is imperative in responding to the pandemic. To increase laboratory diagnosis across Nigeria, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control increased its network of laboratories capable of PCR diagnoses from four — when Nigeria’s index case was identified in 28 February 2020 — to 131 currently (79 government, 45 private and 7 corporates laboratories). Beyond Covid-19 diagnosis, these laboratories could be used for other diagnoses of infectious diseases.

Without a doubt, such multi-sectorial nature of laboratories will help Nigeria’s ability to detect, prevent and respond to infectious diseases outbreaks. This increase in the number of laboratories is unprecedented across the African continent. There are great lessons for other African countries wishing to scale their diagnostic capacities.

South Africa

In South Africa, as another example, the Solidarity Fund is a coalition of private sector and philanthropic organisations established in March 2020. It supports provision of personal protective equipment, ventilators, testing, food relief, prevention of gender-based violence and behavioural change campaigns via radio, churches and sports.

The fund has raised and received R3.22bn ($225m). It is also supporting the rapid rollout of Covid-19 across South Africa.

Kenya

Lastly, in Kenya, several private sector organisations, Coca Cola, Jumia, Uweza Foundation, PWC, Ushahidi, Unilever and 35 other organisations, formed Safe Hands Kenya. Through this initiative, the coalition provides free soap, hand-washing stations, face masks and disinfecting public spaces.

These free services were important in preventing the spread of the virus. Safe Hands targets informal settlements, where social distancing and other non-pharmaceutical interventions are difficult to achieve.

Africa’s informal economy was severely hit by city lockdowns and other restrictions caused by Covid-19. To help customers cope with these negative impacts of Covid-19, Kenya’s telecommunication firm, Safaricom and Kenya Commercial Bank set up a $30m stimulus fund to enable qualified borrowers to expand loan limits and extend loan repayment period. The fund also cut mobile money transaction costs and made lending more affordable.

Bottom line

All sectors of society should contribute as they can to the detection, prevention and response to infectious disease outbreaks. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown why this is imperative.

Recognising the roles of the private sector in stemming this pandemic in Africa, is to acknowledge that it takes a community of all stakeholders to do so – the Ubuntu spirit. Hopefully, this recognition would encourage the private sector to do more in other health arenas, including ensuring universal access to healthcare in Africa.

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