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COVID-19: UN chief says women are central to response, difficult decisions needed in Africa

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 said that women would be central to every aspect of the pandemic response.

António Guterres
UN chief, António Guterres. Photo credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

According to him, stimulus packages must prioritise putting cash in the hands of women and increasing social protection.

Guterres made this known in a statement during the launch of the UN Policy Brief on the impact of COVID-19 on Africa.

He said in the statement:  “As  COVID-19 spreads across the continent, Africa has responded swiftly to the pandemic, and as of now, reported cases are lower than feared.

“In recent years,  Africans have done much to advance the well-being of the continent’s people.

“Economic growth has been strong, the digital revolution has taken hold and a free trade area has been agreed.”

Guterres said that the policy brief being issued highlights a spectrum of urgent challenges.

“We are calling for international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis, support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat.

“African countries should also have quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment, that must be considered global public goods.”

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He, however, said that the pandemic had  threatened  Africa’s progress, and would  aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.

Guterres added that the demand for Africa’s commodities, tourism and remittances were already declining and even the opening of the trade zone had been pushed back.

“Most African countries have moved rapidly to deepen regional coordination, deploy health workers, and enforce quarantines, lockdowns and border closures.

“I commend what has been done already, together with the African Union,” he said.

He also said that African youths should be empowered and the human rights of all, respected.

“Many difficult decisions will need to be taken as the pandemic unfolds, and it will be essential to retain the trust and participation of citizens throughout.

“These are still early days for the pandemic in Africa, and disruption can escalate quickly.

“Global solidarity with Africa is an imperative – now and for recovering better,” Guterres said.

In a related development, Guterres said African countries need to take difficult decisions to stop the coronavirus pandemic in the continent.

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Guterres stated this in an article titled “Global Solidarity with Africa is an Imperative”, published on the UN news website on Wednesday.

“Many difficult decisions will need to be taken as the pandemic unfolds, and it will be essential to retain the trust and participation of citizens throughout. 

“These are still early days for the pandemic in Africa, and disruption could escalate quickly,” he said.

The Secretary-General stated that although the continent had responded swiftly to the pandemic and reported fewer cases than feared, “much hangs in the balance”.

According to him, vigilance and preparedness are important, with no fewer than 2,500 lives already claimed by the disease in Africa.

He warned that the virus was a threat to recent progress in the continent in the areas of economic growth, digital revolution and the free trade area agreement.

He predicted that the pandemic would “aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease”.

Guterres said: “Already, demand for Africa’s commodities, tourism and remittances are declining. 

“The opening of the trade zone has been pushed back and millions could be pushed into extreme poverty. 

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“I commend what African countries have done already, together with the African Union.   

“Most have moved rapidly to deepen regional coordination, deploy health workers, and enforce quarantines, lockdowns and border closures. 

“They are also drawing on the experience of HIV/AIDS and Ebola to debunk rumours and overcome mistrust of government, security forces and health workers.”

The UN Chief expressed his “total solidarity” with the people and governments of Africa in tackling COVID-19.   

He also reiterated his call for global support to the continent in terms financial aid and comprehensive debt relief, among others.

“It will also be essential for African countries to sustain their efforts to silence the guns and address violent extremism – and I welcome African support for my call for a global ceasefire. 

“Political processes and elections in the coming months offer potential milestones for stability and peace. 

“Women will be central to every aspect of the response.  Stimulus packages must prioritise putting cash in the hands of women and increasing social protection.   

“We must empower African youth.  The human rights of all must be respected,” he said.

By Busayo Onijala and Harrison Arubu

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