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– Innovative financing to resolve COVID-19 crisis was needed, a joint African and Asian parliamentarians’ webinar heard this week.
The webinar, facilitated by Asian Population and Development Association (APDA), was aimed at enhancing support for the implementation of International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)commitments in the face of the pandemic.
Most of the delegates from Africa and Asia agreed that implementing the programme of action to provide universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) by 2030, had suffered severe setbacks.
Vulnerable and developing nations could be left behind in the programmes to implement COVID-19 prevention, containment, and treatment solutions including vaccines, should funding shortfalls continue, the conference heard.
Masaki Inaba, program director for Global Health, Africa Japan Forum, told the webinar that the coronavirus pandemic was an unprecedented event and needed innovative funding solutions.
Japan had been a leading nation in the two major international initiatives – it had co-established ACT-Accelerator (ACT-A). It was once the 2nd largest donor for the partnership to support developing tools to fight the disease.
It also funded the COVAX-facility to ensure COVID-19 vaccines reach those in greatest need, whoever they are and wherever they live.
The funding for the COVID-19 health crisis had reached USD 23.7 billion, Inaba said.
“This is huge in the context of health, but not when compared to the annual USD 2 trillion spent on military across the world,” he said.
Inaba said there was a need for the full funding of ACT-A and COVAX, and he called for innovative financing ideas including “international solidarity taxes (currency/financial transaction taxes) or re-allocation of military expenses for health.”
Recent reports have noted that developing countries were competing with high- and middle-income countries for vaccine supplies. This could result in a shortage of vaccines for the COVAX project, aiming to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of the year. Earlier this month director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern that people in the lowest-income countries might need to wait until 2022 to get their vaccines.
Inaba said there was growing support in Africa for South Africa and India’s submission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for a waiver for intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 prevention, containment, and treatment. The waiver will come up for discussion in February.
Justine Coulson, deputy regional director, UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office said it was likely that the widespread disruption of programmes would continue in 2021. The programmes include improving sexual and reproductive health rights, HIV, gender-based violence (GBV), preventing child marriages, and ending the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Coulson said parliamentarians acted as a critical bridge between people and their governments and were instrumental in advocating for rights. She encouraged them to continue to play their crucial role in supporting policies, legislative and accountability frameworks of governments, to advocate and mobilise around the ICPD agenda on sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality.
Dr Ademola Olajide, country representative, UNFPA Kenya Office, gave first-hand evidence of the disruption in services and the growth of GBV during lockdowns in Kenya.
“The onset of COVID-19 pandemic affected the implementation of the ICPD 25 programme of action on several fronts. First, there was a significant diversion and stretching of limited human, material, and financial resources to respond to the pandemic,” he said.
Simultaneously, ‘mixed messaging’ resulted in communities not fully understanding the pandemic, and as a result, many avoided utilising facilities.
Curfews and lockdowns significantly impacted essential maternal and child health services, family planning, HIV and GBV wellness services. There were also livelihood challenges with people losing their jobs and income. Adequate protection measures within school systems to monitor teenage pregnancies, FGM, GBV was significantly disrupted.
Vulnerable populations began to be pushed further to the back in terms of development, he said.
Olajide shared two graphs from Kenya, indicating the pandemic’s impact on antenatal services and skilled attendants at birth. It also showed that GBV became a significant challenge because incidences spiked considerably. A helpline, which in February took about 86 calls, by June received over 700 calls, given the fact that people were now locked into circumstances where they could not escape their abusers.
Older people were disproportionately affected with regards to the pandemic. They were more vulnerable to morbidity and mortality. They also became more vulnerable in some of the African states which had locked down communities. Some of them dependent on their relatives for income, some lost their jobs, Olajide said.
Olajide added that the pandemic motivated new thinking and innovative solutions that were efficient and effective in transport, data, telemedicine, and movement of commodities security and safety.
It was time rethink national planning processes, including preparedness planning.
“It was also necessary to rethink how we fund, national, and global development objectives and policy,” he said, adding that the innovation that emerged the African continent should be explored and developed.