COVID-19 in West Africa: regional resource mobilisation and allocation in the first year of the pandemic

Health Protection

The world is currently confronted by an acute public health emergency caused by the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic. The outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019—about a century after the Spanish flu of 1919, has since rapidly spread across the world resulting in infections, morbidity and mortality at scale unknown in recent times. The impact of the pandemic is evident in its evolution and how it is redefining global health emergencies. The pandemic has been described as one of the greatest challenges the world has had to face since World War II; and with the speed of spread and the very minimal preparedness for a pandemic of this magnitude, COVID-19 is uncharted territory.1 As of 16 March 2021, over 120 million people had tested positive to SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the outbreak; and deaths had exceeded 2.6 million globally.2 Africa, despite being the last continent to be affected by the virus, has not experienced as much devastation as other continents. For example, West Africa, with a population of 367 million people, had confirmed 412 178 cases of COVID-19 with 5363 deaths as of 14 March 2021; compared with the USA which had recorded almost 30 million cases and 530 000 deaths, despite having a slightly smaller population (328 million).
Beyond the direct medical consequences of the contagion, the magnitude of the collateral effects is unprecedented transcending sectoral, sociocultural and geographical boundaries. For example, several national governments across the world imposed border closures, movement restrictions and quarantine measures triggering fears of a looming economic recession. But despite the tendency for most countries to look primarily towards national interests in addressing the pandemic, there has been very significant global, bilateral and multilateral cooperation aimed at ending the pandemic.
Africa, took steps to mitigate the impact of the pandemic even before its first case was announced in Egypt on 14 February 2020. Many African countries, as well as regional institutions, acted promptly by mobilising resources to respond to the outbreak, drawing from experiences with managing previous epidemics. Institutions and mechanisms had been established as part of pan-African, subregional and country-specific epidemic preparedness strategies.3 For example, the Africa Centre for Disease Control activated its emergency operations centre for COVID-19 on 27 January 2020 to coordinate efforts at various levels, including regional structures such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as well as the agencies of the various national governments.3 This may partly explain why Africa has not experienced similar infection rates and fatalities compared with some other parts of the world. In this article, we describe how financial resources were mobilised and allocated to curtail the pandemic in West Africa at regional level. Data were collated as part of the operational activities in the West African Health Organization (WAHO), an agency of the ECOWAS, as sourced from the various countries in the region and partners, as well as the Devex repository (an online platform for the global development community).

Source: British Medical Journal