EJS Hails African COVID-19 Heroes -Outlines Continental Gains, Challenges in Tackling Pandemic

Liberia’s former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has enjoined the African continent to recognize the heroes that have made significant impact in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly our own African governments, and those designated to lead the efforts.

“As the West delayed responses, Africa did mobilize the resources to purchase the vaccine and to start the process through the COVAX Platform; and to negotiate the modus operandi for manufacturing vaccines in the south. More importantly, Africa strengthened its own Center for Disease Control with the help of Dr. John Nkengason who has required international credibility, and recently was nominated by head President Biden to head PREPAR. Many of us will recall that program, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

“We also have several heroes in Africa that have battled the pandemic. Notably, African Union’s own designated Coordinator, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa; entrepreneur Strive Masiyiwa who put together the private sector to mobilize the resources to start the purchase of vaccine at the time when vaccine was not coming to our continent. And we also hail the head of the World Trade Organization, Ngosi Okonjo-Iweala, who has been the one that has led for ensuring intellectual property rights can be relaxed to enable the process to start. And I am glad you did that because you should be proud of all of those our African heroes. Sometimes we fail to give them the recognition, and they’re worthy of it,” former president Sirleaf stated.

Making the remarks Friday, October 8, 2021 at the Bintumani Hotel in Freetown, Sierra Leone, as Keynote Speaker at the Concord Times Summit 2021 where she addressed the theme: “Fresh Answers: the People, Good Governance, and post-COVID 19 Inclusive Recovery,” Madam Sirleaf, who during her own administration had to tackle the debilitating health and economic ripple effects of Ebola, acknowledged that a lot has been achieved in the fight against COVID-19 on the African continent due to the joint efforts of African leaders and the risks incurred by healthcare frontliners who not only pushed to bridge the monopoly of vaccine manufacturing that is currently concentrated in the global North, to the global South; but also ensured that nooks and crannies of communities are reached.

Speaking on the pervasiveness of COVID-19, Madam Sirleaf said the pandemic has reached a global scale, and that one one, no country, no continent is now safe.

“We are all responsible, and we all require to do what it takes to resolve it. Moreover, post-COVID-19 inclusive recovery also requires bridging the monopoly of vaccine manufacturing that is currently concentrated in the global north. We have called for the waiver of intellectual property rights and technology transfers to facilitate vaccine manufacturing in the global south. There is progress to report in this regard. The voices of advocacy have prevailed and efforts are now underway for the collaboration among manufacturing pharmaceutical companies that will ensure manufacturing in the global south. Already, the J&J Company has started in South Africa, with expected expansion to Senegal and Rwanda, and then to others,” she stated matter-of-factly.

She further intimated, however, that inclusive recovery requires more than vaccines, and that it also requires a robust healthcare system with proper staffing and equipment, as well as a support system for those who take the risk in relieving the most vulnerable, the health workforce, particularly the community health workers.

“They are untiringly and yet they remain far beneath the benefit pool, in recognition, compensation and training opportunities. They take the risks as the frontliners and disease detectives. We know their value from our own experience with combating Ebola.

“It also requires supply of other prevention measures in an equitable and timely manner to improve supply chain operations and distribution systems. And above all, to be able to stop the pandemic requires financing – developing finance that are both equitable and inclusive, moreso the SDR reallocation called for by the African Union to address the supply and manufacturing of vaccines, but also to address the economic effects of the pandemic in the loss of jobs, incomes, businesses, homes, and in debt sustainability,” Madam Sirleaf intoned.

Post-COVID-19 Recovery Challenges

Former President Sirleaf closed by reflecting on the state of our world, declaring global citizens, especially Africans should fear that the global cooperation in coordination that produced effective multilateralism had weakened, creating more country-vulnerabilities.

“We should be concerned that enduring emerging democracies are threatened as we may be returning to authoritarianism and illegal regime change. We should also fear that climate change that produce environmental degradation have seriously threatened our farming systems, posing challenges to lives and livelihoods. For countries like ours, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and most of Africa have withstood these challenges over time. We have proven to the world that our resilience remains undaunted. Our determination to be the masters of our own fate, and to achieve the Africa that we want, remains strong and compelling. This is why Africa is regarded as the continent of the youngest and continent with the best potential. In short, our Africa can be the continent of the future. To all of you, this is your future; it’s my future – and only we, working together, mindful of our responsibilities, will ensure that truly we get the Africa that we want,” Madam Sirleaf noted optimistically.

Madam Sirleaf is acclaimed globally for her advocacy for good governance, including women’s empowerment, both during her tenure in office and her post-presidency work. The Nobel laureate won the prestigious 2017 Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.

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