President Cyril Ramaphosa: Roundtable on Pandemic Preparedness
Your Excellency Ms Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, The Right Hon Helen Clark,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to be part of this roundtable to discuss the work of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. We welcome the work of the Independent Panel in reviewing response systems, identifying gaps and risks, and making specific recommendations on how to address these weaknesses. The mandate of the panel is founded on the firm conviction that we must act now as a global community to prevent another pandemic from ever again causing such death and devastation.
We know that it is the virus that causes the disease, but it is human action – and inaction – that causes the pandemic. A vital lesson from the coronavirus pandemic is the necessity for collective leadership, collaboration, solidarity and innovation among the countries of the world.
From the outset, these are the principles that have guided Africa’s response to COVID-19. By working together through the African Union, in March 2020 the countries of the continent developed and began implementing the Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 Outbreak.
We also established the COVID-19 Task Forces in each of the continent’s five regions to drive the implementation of the continental strategy. The following month, in April 2020, we established an AU COVID-19 Response Fund, which was capitalised by the Member States, international partners and the private sector. Among other things, this helped to capacitate the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been vital in supporting national and regional responses.
We also appointed prominent Africans as AU Special Envoys to mobilise funding or the continental response and campaign for debt relief for emerging economies. The African Union launched the ground-breaking African Medical Supplies Platform in June 2020 to enable countries to have equitable access to medical supplies, which were in high demand, including the diagnostic tools and therapeutics for COVID-19. And in August 2020, we established the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team to secure vaccines for all African countries.
While the pandemic has highlighted the value of partnership, it has also demonstrated the damaging effects of unilateral action and unequal access to resources. We cannot hope to overcome this pandemic for as long as richer countries have most of the world’s supply of vaccines to the exclusion and the detriment of poorer countries. As we prepare for future pandemics, we need to accelerate efforts to realise Universal Health Coverage. We need to ensure that vaccines and other life-saving treatments are considered a public good.
For this reason, earlier this year, the African Union resolved to support the call for a temporary TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organization for COVID-19. Such a waiver will enable more countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments to make them more accessible and affordable for poorer countries.
This is about saving human lives. Not sometime in the future, but right now. We look forward to engaging further on the recommendations of the panel, which will enable all countries to strengthen pandemic preparedness. For more than a year, we have fought this global pandemic together as an international community.
Let us now work together, with even greater resolve and focus, to not only prepare for the next pandemic but to build a fairer, healthier and more equitable world.
I thank you.
Issued by The Presidency, 4 May 2021