Responding to pandemics: Africa must be part of the discussion

This article by our Member Mehdi Jomaa was originally published on Jeune Afrique. You can read the french version below.


Africa is no stranger to the disproportionate burden of global health catastrophes, inequitable access to global resources and technology, and unequal representation in the world stage. This again became patently clear with COVID-19. In response and as Member States of WHO, African states have intensified their work with a unified voice on equity concerns. 

WHO Member States are currently in the process of negotiating a global, legally binding instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. It is crucial that African states continue to express a strong, collective voice to ensure that this agreement includes all of the elements that are important to the countries of our continent. 

Access to the financial and technological resources needed to build the capacity of African countries to prevent outbreaks from becoming pandemics, including the development of local health systems, surveillance networks, and a public health workforce are essential. Strengthening the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), an initiative led by the African Union, and its elevation to an autonomous body is vital to enhancing the architecture of pandemic preparedness and response in the continent. Going a step further, we must also maintain that strong, unified voice concerning capacity building and strengthening the resilience of our countries’ public health systems. This is of particular importance to prevent and respond to future deadly infectious disease outbreaks.

As a continent, Africa does not only have a disproportionate burden of disease and health emergencies, it also has a disproportionate burden of inequality. Twenty-three out of the twenty-seven low-income countries in the world are in Africa. Our collective capacity to prevent a catastrophic public health emergency depends on our individual country capacities, as each is reliant on the actions of others.  

What we are demanding from the ongoing pandemic treaty negotiations is the ability to respond to public health emergencies ourselves, and the capacity to prevent the spread of infectious disease outbreaks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our countries were subject to huge disparities with regard to access to vaccines, oxygen, medication, personal protective equipment, and other health goods needed to adequately respond. We must use the treaty negotiation process to ensure that our countries are able to readily access global public goods in times of emergency. More importantly, we must be able to secure what is needed to develop technologies, build manufacturing capacities, establish supply chains, and obtain reliable and sustainable financing. Countries need to have the capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks at the source.  

Equity is not just about access to resources, but also about having a voice on how those resources are allocated and used. This requires that the World Bank Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) for Pandemic Prevention Preparedness and Response, to be launched in the fall of 2022, must appropriately represent all nations. Top-down approaches that divide the world into “donors” and “recipients” are outdated and must be supplanted by a partnership model that gives all countries an opportunity to participate and be heard.

A global, legally binding instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response will only achieve its goals when Member States are accountable for delivering what they have agreed in terms of prevention, preparedness, response and wider equity issues. 

Africa is the largest voting bloc in the world. It has a powerful voice, and it must continue to make it heard to ensure that what is important to our nations becomes part of that legally binding pandemic instrument now being negotiated. As the WHO Regional Committee for Africa takes place starting next August 22nd and as a Member of Club de Madrid, the world’s largest assembly of democratic former Presidents and Prime Ministers and staunch supporter of multilateralism and global cooperation, we ask that Africa takes this opportunity to clearly voice what this legal instrument will require to meet the needs of the African continent.



L’Afrique n’est pas étrangère à la charge disproportionnée des catastrophes sanitaires mondiales, à l’accès inéquitable aux ressources et à la technologie et à la représentation inégale sur la scène mondiale. Cela est encore apparu très clairement avec le Covid-19. En réponse, et en tant qu’États membres de l’OMS, les États africains ont dernièrement intensifié leur travail sur les problèmes d’équité avec une voix unifiée.

Les États membres de l’OMS sont en train de négocier actuellement un instrument international et juridiquement contraignant sur la prévention, la préparation et la réponse aux pandémies. Il est crucial que les États africains continuent de s’exprimer d’une voix forte et collective pour s’assurer que cet accord inclue tous les éléments qui sont importants pour eux.