The African Union Bureau of Assembly of Heads of State and Government (AU Bureau) announced the President of the Republic of South Africa, H.E. Cyril Ramaphosa, as the AU Champion on COVID-19 at the 34th Ordinary Session of the AU held on 06 February 2021.
Following his appointment as AU Champion on COVID-19, President Ramaphosa established the Commission on African COVID-19 Response. The Commission, chaired by the President and deputised by the Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Infection (Africa CDC), Dr John Nkengasong, held its inaugural meeting on 22 June 2021.
The establishment of this Commission recognises and advances the crucial role played by President Ramaphosa in driving the continental COVID-19 response during his tenure as Chair of the African Union in 2020. During this time the following critical milestones were attained:
• The development and endorsement of the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 Outbreak
• The establishment of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus (AFTCOR)
• The development and establishment of the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP)
• The establishment of the COVID-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) to secure financing for and acquire vaccines
• Coordinating communications across the continent around COVID-19 as well as the contributions of the AU Bureau to the continental COVID-19 response
• The appointment of AU Special Envoys for COVID-19
The Commission’s overarching goal is to support the President in his Championship role in order to enable his continued leadership in guiding the continental response to COVID-19. The Commission’s mandate is two-fold: 1) identify gaps in the continental COVID-19 response strategy and propose evidence-based interventions within the scope of practice of the Commission, and 2) generate evidence to assess the impact of COVID-19 on social and economic harm on the continent and propose ways to a strong recovery.
Some of the specific areas of focus in the Commission’s work include the need to strengthen the public health workforce; continental manufacturing of diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics; results-oriented partnerships, and strengthening national public health institutions including the Africa CDC.
To address the immediate urgency of securing vaccines for the continent, the inaugural meeting included invited guests from GAVI, UNICEF, Gates Foundation and the Open Society Foundation to galvanise support around innovative mechanisms to secure Africa’s position in the vaccine market.