July 30, 2020
On July 30, 2020, Her Excellency Voahary Rakotovelomanantsoa, Minister of Water, Hygiene, and Sanitation for Madagascar; Professor Yeri Kombe, Director General of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), and Professor Abraham Kwabena Anang, Director of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Ghana—who are leading the fight against COVID-19—took part in a Center for Global Development (CGD) webinar on "Supporting African Health Systems in the Time of COVID-19: A View from Japan," together with JICA Vice President Dr. Takao Toda.
With Mr. Gyude Moore, Senior Policy Fellow at CGD and former Minister of Public Works for Liberia, serving as moderator, they discussed how various countries in Africa are responding to the pandemic as well as how the Japan International Cooperation Agency is assisting them in the short-term. They also stressed the importance of ingenuity in the utilization of limited resources and considered the future of country-wise, regional, and global collaboration plus the Human Security approach.*
Her Excellency Rakotovelomanantsoa cited the Government of Madagascar's banning of flights from high-risk countries and imposition of targeted lockdowns, in addition to its concurrent work of tracing the contacts of those infected and isolating/treating infected individuals. She also referenced an inter-ministerial strategic committee under the leadership of the President of Madagascar and a national handwashing campaign effective in combating COVID-19—for which she was instrumental in launching and that received early backing by JICA.
Professor Kombe cited quick presidential action in creating the Kenya National Emergency Response Committee and noted that a number of task forces have been established within Kenya's Ministry of Health to address specific aspects of the outbreak, including diagnostics and health education. He affirmed that such high-level coordination has been instrumental in mobilizing the resources and supplies necessary for combatting COVID-19. Professor Kombe added that KEMRI is expanding its rRT-PCR testing capacity for COVID-19 with the support of JICA and Africa CDC.
Professor Anang outlined the functions of the Ghana COVID-19 Task Force and pointed out that the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research—founded with grant funding from Japan and a recipient of subsequent technical assistance from JICA—was initially the only place in Ghana to offer rRT-PCR tests for COVID-19; as with KEMRI, its testing capacity has steadily increased. He went on to say the private sector is strongly aiding the country's COVID-19 response, including in the area of testing, and highlighted the fact that Ghana's first-ever specialty hospital for infectious diseases was recently constructed in only 12 weeks.
First row: Her Excellency Voahary Rakotovelomanantsoa of Madagascar (left) and Professor Yeri Kombe of Kenya (right)
Second row: Professor Abraham Kwabena Anang of Ghana (left) and JICA Vice President Takao Toda (right)
Third row: CGD Senior Policy Fellow Mr. Gyude Moore
For his part, Dr. Toda applauded the continent's response to COVID-19 and underscored JICA's commitment to reinforcing emergency relief efforts, strengthening health sectors, and building resilient social and economic systems in preparation for a likely second wave of disease outbreak. He also stressed how important country ownership is to countering the pandemic and emphasized the high priority JICA places on advancing Human Security beyond the immediate crisis.
Furthermore, Dr. Toda concurred with his fellow speakers that global cooperation will be needed to ensure availability of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine to all who need it. Yet he opined that African policymakers and the general public can make use of the intervening months by leveraging collective wisdom against the disease to strengthen health systems in solidarity with various domestic and international actors.