This week, the African Risk Capacity (ARC) Group launched its Outbreaks and Epidemics (O&E) solution, the very first African epidemic risk insurance mechanism designed to enable rapid country-led responses to disease outbreaks and epidemics and prevent the further spread of such threats.
The product, born in the wake of the devastating 2014 West African Ebola crisis and developed in response to a request from African Ministers of Finance under the auspices of the African Union (AU), avails innovative tools and finance mechanisms to strengthen participating countries' preparedness and response capacities to manage disease outbreaks effectively.
With a mandate to help AU member states to plan, prepare and respond to climate-induced extreme weather events and disease outbreaks, ARC, and indeed the AU, the founding body of the organisation, recognise the correlation between climatic hazards and pathogenic diseases and how both are compounded by climate change.
The launch of the O&E solution follows extensive efforts from the Group to diversify its product portfolio and provide a suite of solutions that will meet the different needs on the continent. It also comes at a time when the organisation is scaling up its operations and looking to increase its reach and impact. The O&E product will complement the existing Drought and Tropical Cyclone products and the soon-to-be-launched Flood model, all of which help reduce participating governments' vulnerabilities to these threats and over-reliance on external donor support in the event of a disaster.
At a continental level, there is a strong acknowledgement of the increasing threat paused by outbreaks and epidemics and the urgent need to find solutions that will equip African governments to effectively manage public health emergencies and ensure the protection of the most vulnerable. Over the last 20 years, the increasing occurrence of multiple complex trans-border public health emergencies has led to a devastating loss of lives and livelihoods and exacerbated other pre-existing socio-economic challenges. COVID-19 is fresh in our minds, but we have had outbreaks of other life-threatening and economic-crippling diseases such as Ebola, Marburg, meningitis and Lassa fever, among others.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), annually, Africa faces an average of about one hundred infectious disease outbreaks and other health emergencies, but weaknesses in national preparedness and the general lack of initial funding to investigate and control outbreaks before they progress to epidemics is a significant challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed gaps in global preparedness and African health systems challenges and has left many governments struggling to recover. The impact of any uncontained disease outbreaks goes beyond the immediate health challenges. It underscores the importance of epidemic preparedness and readiness, and ARC is proud to be able to bring a solution that will enable just that.
The ARC O&E sovereign parametric insurance is structured as a risk transfer instrument that offers protection through a multi-pronged approach: in-country capacity-building work on epidemic preparedness; contingency planning to enable timely and effective response when an outbreak occurs; outbreak modelling to compute risk analytics from realistically simulated outbreaks events; and a risk transfer parametric product that covers early response costs of an outbreak. The product will cover an initial three diseases of epidemic potential; Ebola, Marburg and Meningitis, to expand based on assessed needs in member states
This solution will enable an appreciation of the extent of the risks of an infectious disease of epidemic potential and facilitate critical planning that will save lives. Once a policy is in place, ARC will work closely with participating countries to undertake comprehensive risk analysis and scenario modelling of different parameters. This includes an understanding of critical aspects such as the nature of the outbreak, pathogenicity, speed of spread as a factor of population and movement, and health systems' capacity to inform the necessary contingency arrangements for national response and possible risk transfer. This information is invaluable as it gives a line of sight of the progression of the disease and heightens government and stakeholder awareness, even for small events that will not trigger an insurance payout.
Senegal, whose history with ARC dates back to 2012 when the government signed the ARC foundation Treaty and has been participating in ARC's Drought capacity-building programme since 2012, is the first country to sign up for the O&E insurance policy. The country, which lies in the Meningitis belt and also, like neighbouring countries, is at risk of potential filovirus (Ebola, Marburg), will be able to strengthen further its response capacity and initiate impactful responses when the need arises. During the research and development phase in 2018, the product was piloted in Guinea and Uganda, and the lessons learnt were used to improve the product further.
In delivering on its mandate, ARC has always acknowledged the critical role of funding and development partners who make its work and programmes possible. In the same vein, the research, development and launch of the ARC O&E solution were made possible by the support from partners that came on board to facilitate various aspects of this process.
The Rockefeller Foundation first funded the development work, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation equally funded the R&D phase and has also availed insurance premium support to enable country participation in the O&E risk pools. Recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also provided funding to support gender-focused O&E activities in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region, to complement these investments and expand the scope and reach of ARC's outbreaks and epidemics work. These are prime examples of how partnerships can come together to deliver concrete results and develop an entire ecosystem that will strengthen capabilities in case of an outbreak.
The last pandemic has highlighted the need for a coordinated approach. This is why ARC, in developing this solution, has directed much effort to building synergies and cementing partnership agreements with other organisations in this space, such as the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and Institut Pasteur Dakar. These partners have been a source of great support throughout the development process, and we will continue to work closely with them to ensure this product's success and that our solutions are timely and effective to the continent's needs.
The leadership within ARC has encouraged us to push for a robust, sustainable and proactive Disaster Risk Management culture on the African continent. The O&E solution is a testament to this as we develop a mindset that is both preventative and responsive, evaluating and understanding the risks we face. . This latest solution will enable African countries to manage health risks better, protect vulnerable populations, and resolve some of the challenges attributed to disease outbreaks. Having a diversified product offering around climate change and now epidemics, widely acknowledged today as the biggest threats to economic growth and development, will also enable our member states to tailor their participation in ARC risk pools and proactively manage their risks. Work to operationalise the product on the ground now begins.
Robert Kwame Agyarko is the Lead Advisor for Outbreaks and Epidemics at ARC.
Amadou Bah (PhD) is the Senior Public Health Advisor at ARC.
Eva Grace Kavuma is the Chief Operations Officer of ARC Agency.