The health, economic, and social effects of COVID-19 in Africa and around the world have been unprecedented. In this series, young Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora share their views on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How are young people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
This crisis is affecting everyone, but young people will be particularly impacted given the strain on job creation which we expect to see in the aftermath. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that globally approximately 1.3 billion young people are between the ages of 15 - 24. Although 41% of the youth population are in the labour force, nearly 68 million are in search of, and are available for gainful employment opportunities. The impact of COVID-19 is likely to double this number, leading to youth underemployment, a possible erosion of decent and fair work and job losses, particularly in Africa. Many young people are involved in the gig economy and one thing we have seen is the absence of social safety nets in that line of work.
What role can young people play in prevention, response, and transformation in combating COVID-19 in Africa?
Young people in Africa are already leading the fight against COVID-19. They are demonstrating their commitment to community development initiatives through launching awareness-raising and sensitisation campaigns, serving on the frontlines as health workers in various countries, and advancing research and innovation by developing online applications specific to COVID-19. They are also participating in on-line discussions towards finding solutions to end this pandemic. They are playing important advocacy roles. One only has to look at the recently released UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development (UN IANYD) Statement on COVID-19 and Youth.
How can we strengthen innovative communication tools between institutions and the local community both online and offline to help tackle COVID-19?
African countries are adopting innovative means to communicate to their citizens at both institutional and community levels. In the Gambia for example, we are seeing more public-private partnerships with private research institutions developing information and communication portals to share real-time data on COVID19 cases and infections.
Using creative industries, the International Trade Centre's (ITC) Gambia office through its EU funded Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) has also teamed up with the Poetry Café and the Writers Associations of the Gambia for a poetry challenge to raise awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is done through poetry broadcasted on radios and national television. Other communications tools include music videos, publishing of materials in local languages and billboards are also being used to raise awareness.
What lessons and best practice can African countries learn from each other and Ebola response to help slow the spread of COVID-19?
A lot of lessons are emerging from African countries during this pandemic. For example, researchers in Senegal are using their AIDS and Ebola experience to develop a coronavirus diagnostic kit with the capacity to generate results within 10 minutes of conducting the test. These researchers are doing what most countries, even developed ones, are not able to do by testing everyone whether they have symptoms or not in order to quickly identify and isolate infected patients.
Other countries in Africa such as Senegal, are also leveraging digital technologies such as 3D printing to develop ventilator substitutes costing way less than the average ventilators which can cost over USD16,000, and others are manufacturing 3D printed face shield for prevention.
Rwanda also presents a good example of its COVID-19 Emergency Response project by also harnessing digital solutions and data analytical tools that will improve the management and containment of COVID-19. Building on the country's strong track record on digital solutions, several innovations will be explored, including digital maps that allow to visualise the spread of the disease in real-time; mobile apps for sending health messages; and telemedicine capability to allow for suspected cases to be assessed without the need for physical movements by patients. This should be scaled up across is the continent.
How has your country responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?
So far, my country (Gambia) is adopting public-private partnership models to tackle this global pandemic. In partnership with the Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit, the Ministry of Health is conducting tests at various health centres and calling on citizens to take the opportunity to get tested regardless of symptoms.
In addition, the Government Health-Risks communication team collaborated with the National Youth Council to embark on community engagement ahead of mass COVID-19 sample collection in various communities.
Discussions are also ongoing in parliament to explore various social safety nets including recommendations to increase the COVID-19 response envelope from GMD500 million to GMD1 billion Gambian dalasi to support vulnerable groups, support the private sector and maintain jobs through a liquidity injection programme accompanied by fiscal and customs measures.
Other efforts are also being made to safeguard macroeconomic and financial stability in the country. With support from the IMF, Gambia is benefitting from a USD21.3 million under the rapid credit facility as well as the IMF debt service relief under the catastrophe containment and relief fund. All these are geared towards the urgent need of stabilising the balance of payment resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
The World Bank has also provided some grant funding for the procurement of medical equipment and strengthening health infrastructure to mitigate the impact of coronavirus in Gambia.