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Conversation between JICA President Kitaoka and the Board Chair of Gavi (The Vaccine Alliance) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

June 9, 2020

On Jun. 9, JICA President Kitaoka Shinichi held a virtual conversation with the Board Chair of Gavi (The Vaccine Alliance) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to discuss the challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has been one of the members of JICA's International Advisory Board (IAB) since 2017.

Dr. Kitaoka started off expressing his appreciation for Dr. Okonjo-Iweala's continuous support as a member of JICA's IAB. Underscoring that the COVID-19 pandemic may go down in history as an event of immense historical importance, he noted that JICA has just started a study of "the role of international cooperation in the Post-COVID-19 World." Likewise, he said that JICA is conducting research to ascertain which type of assistance will have the greatest impact on the health and medical systems of developing countries, including African countries. In response, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala praised Japan's US$300 million pledge in support of Gavi, and commended Japan for more than doubling its previous commitment at the third donor pledging conference on Jun. 4.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala reasoned that the degree of urbanization in countries hardest hit by the pandemic may help explain why some countries are being hit harder than others. She also said that African countries have developed effective platforms for identification and contact tracing—some of which had been previously used for other infectious diseases such as polio and Ebola. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also underlined that African countries acted "very promptly and very courageously" ordering massive lockdowns as soon as the first case of COVID-19 was identified. Likewise, she underscored that the pandemic has indeed accelerated efforts toward regional cooperation and integration, including those spearheaded by the African Union and the Africa CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention).

On the other hand, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala emphasized that even before the health crisis reached Africa, the economic ramifications stemming from the crisis, e.g., falling commodity prices, capital outflows, monetary devaluations, and a decline in remittances, had impacted the continent. She also stressed that many African countries have no fiscal space because they have to service their debt, and urged Japan to help the continent to fight the pandemic as "the virus knows no borders" and "no country is safe until all countries are safe."

JICA side mentioned that JICA has a memorandum of understanding with the Africa CDC to enhance joint collaboration. Similarly, JICA has been providing technical and financial support to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. Currently, JICA is also working with AUDA-NEPAD (African Union Development Agency - The New Partnership for Africa's Development) to explore areas of potential collaboration in support of AUDA-NEPAD's "homegrown solutions" initiative, whereby AUDA-NEPAD seek to empower African nations to produce their own medical equipment.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala encouraged Japan to increase its support for African community health workers, expand its provision of water and sanitation assistance, and strengthen its efforts to help Africa achieve food self-sufficiency, while commending Japan's global leadership in the cooperation in these sectors up to date. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also stated that "this pandemic united Africa more than ever," and Africa will work hard to overcome this challenge.

President Kitaoka underscored the value of Japan's contributions to the improvement of health and education in partner countries, and pledged that JICA will spare no efforts to bolster its cooperation based on Japan's unique approach. JICA, he said, continues supporting African countries' own efforts while also promoting African solidary. In response, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala expressed deep appreciation for Japan's resolute support for Africa.