The COVID-19 crisis is stretching the capacity of governments across the world, but African governments face greater challenges than most. In particular, they must grapple with the following:
Limited fiscal capacity
The ratio of public revenues to GDP in African countries averages just 19 percent, compared to 30 percent in Brazil and 37 percent in the United Kingdom—while debt servicing already absorbs 22 percent of revenues in Africa.
That gives African governments limited scope for stimulus packages compared to their peers in other regions.
Such packages will need to be carefully targeted, and supported by development partners and philanthropic organizations.
Highly informal economies with many small and micro businesses
Small and medium enterprises create 80 percent of the continent’s employment, compared to 50 percent in the European Union and 60 percent in the United States.
African small businesses have limited ability for their staff to work from home, compounded by issues such as power outages and high costs of data.
During this crisis, governments will need to extend support to small and medium enterprises, given their role in the economy and the difficulties they face.
Additionally, the informal sector is estimated to make up 55 percent of the economy in sub-Saharan Africa, so efforts at economic revitalization will need to extend to informal parts of the economy.
Young populations, widespread poverty
Africa is the most rapidly urbanizing region in the world, with 50 to 70 percent of urban dwellers living in slums.
This has huge implications for the effectiveness and implementation of quarantine methods in these poor sanitary conditions.
Africa also has a young population—the median age is 19—and there are an estimated 80 million young people in vulnerable employment and a further 110 million who do not contribute to the economy.
School closures will have severe impact on young Africans, with long-term consequences.
Female students, in particular, are at risk: for many of them, a few months’ absence from school could mean the end of their education.
Constrained health systems
There are 0.25 doctors for every 1,000 people in Africa, compared to 1.6 in Latin America and 3 in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
There is also a low number of hospital beds—1.4 beds per 1,000 people versus 2 in Latin America and 4 in China.
These factors, combined with limited testing and treatment capability, point to an urgent need to expand healthcare capacity.
Given these constraints, African governments will need to be both targeted and creative in their response to the crisis.
They will also need to foster intense and closely aligned collaboration with the private sector and development partners.
We suggest the following as an organizing framework for targeted action by governments. The framework is structured around five priorities:
Set up national nerve centers
Governments, with the close involvement of the private sector and other key stakeholders, need to take rapid action to set up or build out national nerve centers to coordinate and accelerate their response to the crisis.
These nerve centers should bring together crucial leadership skills, organizational capabilities, and digital tools—giving leaders the best chance of getting ahead of events rather than reacting to them.
Anticipate and manage the health crisis
Governments will need to take even stronger measures to delay and reduce the peak of the epidemic—including more intensive social distancing through mobility restrictions and lockdowns as well as larger-scale surveillance to test and isolate identified cases.
In parallel, governments must immediately prepare for a potentially rapid surge of cases, which will demand significant numbers of testing facilities, hospital beds, ventilators and other medical equipment, as well as additional health professionals.
Given the limited existing resources in most African healthcare systems, bold and locally tailored measures will be required to create surge capacity and prevent mortality among the most vulnerable population.
Secure food supply and essential services
Governments need to secure food supply chains, particularly the supply of priority products—and ensure the appropriate pricing of these products.
They will also need to ensure that access to essential services such as telecoms and utilities is maintained.
Ensure support for most vulnerable populations
This includes taking measures to protect jobs and to support affected communities, particularly the most vulnerable populations, through social safety-net mechanisms—including cash transfers.
Anticipate and manage the impact on the economy
Governments need to anticipate what the impact on their economy is likely to be through scenario analysis.
Also offering a short-term stimulus package to maintain financial stability and help businesses survive the crisis—particularly those in strategic industries.
Given the expected loss of tax revenue, governments will also to need to identify opportunities to urgently reduce non-essential spending.
Additionally, governments will need to anticipate and prepare for what the post-crisis “next normal” will look like.
This piece was originally published here.
Featured Image: chicagotribune
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