Capacity Imperatives of Pandemic Responses: Building Resilient Health Systems and Ensuring Socio-economic Transformation in Africa

This study examines the capacity challenges experienced by African countries in their responses to the COVID-19 pan¬demic and proposes priority capacity development actions aimed at building resilient health systems and supporting socio-economic transformations for dealing with future outbreaks and pandemics. The study is based on an extensive review of the literature and online surveys targeted at selected African countries. The scope of the study is mainly cen¬tered on the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) implementation countries in the five regions of Africa. Specifically, the study covers ten countries, two from each region, and provides insights and recommendations with respect to the capacities that are necessary for countries to enhance their pre¬paredness and response to this and future pandemics. Using the Global Health Security (GHS) Index, the International Health Regulations (IHR) Coverage ratio, the World Health Assembly (WHA) Indicator and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3) on Health, the study analyzes the state of the health systems in the ten sample countries and finds that they all show various levels of vulnerabilities and weaknesses that must be addressed as the continent prepares for future pandemics. Several lessons are learned including the need for African ministries of health to build institutional and human capacity in key areas such as: good governance, accountability, and transformational leadership, in addressing policy gaps and vision, setting clear goals to enhance capacity develop¬ment, capacity retention, and capacity utilization in Africa. This, in addition to strong leadership, planning and budget¬ing capacities, and establishing and strengthening partnerships and collaborative relationships, including South-South collaboration, will not only address the national gaps but also increase the level of responsiveness and pandemic preparedness. The study also finds that early action by governments - including formulating new policies, developing new guide¬lines and standard operating procedures, and establishing emergency organizing bodies and presidential task forces to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic - proves to be salutary to curbing the overall impact of the disease. The overall study results point to the need for strengthening the macroeconomic management capacity of countries, par¬ticularly with regard to debt management and resource mobilization. This is to ensure macroeconomic readiness, as budget and macroeconomic stability is a necessary environment in which to effectively confront future pandemics. Similarly, African countries must continually strengthen their innovation capacity and support of all economic sectors, with particular focus placed on agriculture and the rural economy, and the informal economy in suburban vulnerable environments where most micro, small and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs) and women and youth-led businesses operate. The analysis further suggests the need to significantly reinforce social protection capacity in Africa. In the end, none of the above would be possible without strong transformative leadership.