Coronavirus | Trump's 'hold' on WHO funds could devastate African programmes, director warns


World Health Organisation regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said United States President Donald Trump's threat to withhold funding to the World Health Organisation would devastate Africa's response programmes to the coronavirus pandemic and other health challenges, if he acted upon it.

Moeti was speaking during a World Bank Group media discussion which was live streamed on Thursday afternoon.

The media engagement coincided with the release of the World Bank Group Africa's Pulse report, titled Analysing the Impact of Covid-19 and Policy Responses in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It also followed Trump telling reporters at the White House on Tuesday evening that he would consider putting "a very powerful hold" on contributions to the WHO, which amounted to $550 million in 2019. Trump called the global organisation "China-centric".

Moeti warned that the threat from Trump would have a significant impact on the WHO and its programmes if he were to act upon it, because the US was the largest contributor to the global health body, and Africa was the most vulnerable region to major health risks.

"The US withholding funds would have a significant impact on our ability to address this and other health challenges on the continent. The response to those pandemic demands economic and global solidarity," said Moeti.

Moeti said as coronavirus cases continued to rise, African leaders had to consider pre-existing conditions as a risk factor, in addition to health challenges that are unique to the region. The latter could worsen the impact of Covid-19, Moeti said.

She noted that the comparatively slow rise of Covid-19 in Africa could be due to a lack of adequate testing facilities in small African countries, which hobbled authorities' ability to track and find cases.

"We have a 9.4% recovery rate in Africa, which is slightly lower than other regions. The number of countries with confirmed cases in Africa is relatively limited. But there are people in our region with pre-existing conditions and this is a challenge we are looking at," Moeti said.

She urged leaders from around the world to continue to work together, as the coronavirus affected people all over the world.

Migrants hit hard

Regional director for East and Horn of Africa for the International Organisation for Migration, Mohammed Abdiker, said deportation of migrants was increasing in the region since the pandemic reached the continent and migrant camps faced pressure because of the restrictions placed on borders.

"The pandemic has a severe impact on migrants. It is a health crisis but, in their own way, migrants are a victim. We have migrants who are stranded and face restricted movements in the region," said Abdiker.

Abdiker said smuggling and trafficking in the east African region were exacerbated by the closure of borders, leaving asylum seekers and migrants in general vulnerable.

The report said the World Bank projectd economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa would decline from 2.4% in 2019 to -2.1% to -5.1% in 2020. This would thrust the region into its first recession in 25 years.

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