Since the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic late last year in Wuhan, China, the global community has witnessed unprecedented policy responses to curtail, contain and control the disease. Many have proven to be successful. But others required critical context consideration.
For instance, the lockdown in Nigeria risks threatening the livelihoods of millions of people who are dependent on the informal market for their survival. Another example is the fact that the security measures being imposed are extracting a heavy price from ordinary citizens.
The situation is a learning curve for all countries.
The responses at national level have included policy measures consistent with recommended social and hygienic practices.
These have ranged from staying at home and regular washing of hands or use of sanitiser to social and physical distancing, wearing of protective masks and kits, limiting the number of people in public gatherings, restriction of human and vehicular movement or curfews or travel bans, and total or partial lockdown.
There have also been broad policy responses to help economies manage their way through the crisis.
Some policy responses have proven to be effective in some cases. But what’s become clear is that policy responses cannot be a one-size-fits-all. That is, the local realities of each country in terms of financial, social, cultural and environmental contexts should be considered.
Based on my academic work on public policy and sustainable development, I think it is imperative that poor countries do not simply cut-and-paste interventions being imposed in rich countries. The specific differences between rich and poor countries should be taken on board.
I have therefore identified six areas that countries in Africa would do well to focus on. The list comes from my experience of working with administrations seeking to meet development goals ranging from social inclusion to economic sustainability.
Six key areas to focus on
The first need is for proper data and information management. These play a critical role, right from the identification of the first case to tracing contacts, provision of medical care infrastructure and caring for infected and affected populations. Countries that have data about their residents, like the United Kingdom, are able to target the measures they put in place. Countries that don’t have data about their populations, like many in Africa, are unable to focus their responses.
Secondly, developing countries must avoid simply copying the policy responses of rich countries. Countries have different resources. It would be unrealistic to contain and control the COVID-19 pandemic in a uniform way. There is a need to reconsider and rejig the current policy responses by countries to suit their local contexts.
Home-grown initiatives – like support for households and livelihoods – would offer sufficient conditions for effective disease control and management. For example, Ghana and Rwanda have home-grown school feeding and health insurance programmes that have worked. These could be used to ensure national coverage of social inclusion and social protection during this period.
Thirdly, local resources should be used while soliciting greater partnership. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the strength and weaknesses of both rich and poor countries. It has also shown opportunity for partnership for sustainable development. This includes monetary and material support from rich countries to help manage the disease.
The socio-economic foundations of most countries have been shaken, while resilience-building capacity – the ability to rebound and recover – has become the defining character for the survival of countries. For instance, the fall in the price of crude oil has affected the annual budget of many oil-producing countries, including Nigeria. Such countries will need to re-strategise on economic diversification of the revenue base.
The fourth need is to strengthen institutions and build human capacity for disaster and risk management. Having the right institutions in place – such as a national disaster and risk management commission, inter-ministerial capability and the right skill-sets – have also been effective in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Poor countries have a lot to learn on this front.
Fifthly, citizens are at the mercy of government when there is an emergency like this pandemic. Trust can only be assured when the right leadership is in place. The important factors are respect for human life, and responsive and responsible institutions.
Lastly, all countries need a recovery and sustainability plan. COVID-19 is not the first pandemic to happen in the world. Each century has witnessed different pandemics, often resulting in global economic recessions. What is important, therefore, is to plan for recovery. Countries will emerge from the current pandemic in different economic conditions. Those that have robust economic recovery plans will recover faster and rebuild better.