The French government is redirecting some 1.2 billion euros of development aid for the fight against coronavirus on the African continent. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said this week that the wave of Covid-19 had not yet hit Africa with its full force and fragile health systems risk being overwhelmed.
"The situation in Africa calls for considerable vigilance," French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a session of the foreign affairs commission on Wednesday. "Health systems are fragile and offer limited treatment," he added, noting difficulties in procuring pharmaceuticals and a lack of resources including personnel.
Le Drian said it was the French government's "duty" and "interest" to help Africa cope, working in collaboration with multilateral agencies such as the World Health Organisation.
The French Development Agency (AFD) said the 1.2 billion euros would be made up of 150 million euros in the form of donations and 1 billion euros as loans.
"The lockdown strategy carried out in Europe risks being difficult to apply in countries where informal economies and subsistence farming prevail," said the French foreign minister, raising the spectre of food insecurity. He added that France would therefore support the World Food Programme.
African countries face a lack of personal protective equipment, difficulties in establishing treatment centres and an absence of critical care facilities.
France's foreign minister said supporting Africa's response involves "strengthening healthcare systems such as detection and scientific research capacities".
Le Drian also touched on controversial comments made by two French medical experts on the LCI television news channel about testing coronavirus vaccines on Africans. The French foreign minister said he "unwaveringly condemns" the suggestion that vaccine tests could be carried out on Africans.
Some of the Covid-19 funds would come from those already allocated to action against AIDS, according to Le Drian.
Money would directed into four areas: strengthening regional epidemiological surveillance networks, contributions to African government's Covid-19 response plans, support for French actors fighting Covid-19 (non-governmental organisations, research organisations, etc) and budgetary support for strengthening health systems, according to AFD.
Le Drian told parliamentarians that the French government "must consider a moratorium on interest payments" for debt and restructuring.
Loans and donations would primarily target 19 priority countries in Africa identified by AFD.