The West African regional bloc, Ecowas, is choosing collective action to save its nearly Sh400 million people from the spiralling effects of the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
Last Thursday, leaders of the Economic Community of West African States , in responding to a rising number of cases, held a two-day teleconference seeking answers.
They sought to address issues beyond healthcare, touching on education in a region where schools were shut, an economy where businesses no longer operate with ease and other technological needs in times of Covid-19.
They vowed to “provide substantial support to the social sectors [including] distance learning tools, strengthening of health systems and facilities and easy internet access for the most disadvantaged segments of society”.
Other outcomes from the meeting included the appointment of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to lead the battle against the spread of Covid-19 as well as the decision on the re-opening of borders.
Ecowas Chairman and Nigerien President Alhaji Mahamadou Issoufou, had, at the opening of the summit raised the alarm over the devastating effects of the pandemic on human and economies of the member-states.
Already hurting from an insufficient healthcare system, the bloc of 15 countries also faces an economic stall as the Covid-19 has shut almost every type of business in the region.
The leaders said they will support banks and financial institutions and provide assistance to the private sector, especially the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
Part of the solution will be to deploy, through local Central Banks, “tools, means and significant liquidity to support the financial sector”.
The leaders also agreed to “issue long-term treasury bills and bonds to finance critical investment needs to support the private sector and revive economies,” according to a dispatch released after they virtually met on Friday.
They did not put a figure on that support.
The leaders also endorsed a proposal to increase the health budgetary allocation to 15 per cent.
The region had a total of 6,525 confirmed cases and 1,972 recoveries by Friday evening.
A breakdown shows countries such as Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana had recorded over a thousand cases as Nigeria inched closer with 981 by Friday evening.
Benin had 54, Burkina Faso 616, Guinea 862, Guinea Bissau 50, Liberia 101, Mali 309, Cape Verde 82, Niger 671, Senegal 479, Sierra Leone 64, The Gambia 10 and Togo 88.
But the leaders were optimistic.
“In every challenging situation such as the current one, there are also opportunities,” President Buhari said.
“Our region must therefore seek to find those opportunities provided by this gloomy global outlook for its benefit by embarking on implementation of such critical policies, which before now, would have been difficult to accept.”
According to the communiqué issued at the end of the teleconference, the need to develop healthcare in the sub-region has become more important with Covid-19.
The region suffered at least 11,000 deaths when the Ebola Virus Disease hit in 2014. It, too, had no cure.
Increasing health budgets as well as pooling resources were critical messages at the teleconference but it was not clear how soon those monies will be raised or even disbursed, given the variant budgetary procedures in every country.
The leaders, though, agreed to “continue to put in place humanitarian and palliative measures to assist their population, particularly through distribution of foodstuff and provision of financial assistance to the poor in strict compliance with the necessary health measures”.
Before that, the leaders said they were launching a stronger sensitisation programme, admitting prevention would be easier than treatment in the region.
The region has some of Africa’s biggest economies including Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
The leaders said the virus was likely going to either stall or regress economies and that they would “develop jointly, a response plan taking into account the fight against the spread of the virus and a post-pandemic economic recovery plan”.
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