As of 18 May 2020, Africa has over 60 000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The spread of the virus has not only affected people’s everyday lives but has put a toll on the health, economy, and politics of nations. To manage and overcome this pandemic, all spheres of society have to work together. The spirit of working together to benefit all is captured in the African philosophical term of humanity called ubuntu.
We have seen the spirit of ubuntu and solidarity in all spheres of this pandemic: whether it’s the global solidarity trials to find treatment; collaborations between pharmaceutical competitors to develop a vaccine; or historic solidarity across the various bodies of the United Nations in forming a COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. On a pan-African scale, the African Union Commission and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have launched the Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing (PACT). These examples show how collaboration strengthens the capacity to test for COVID-19 across Africa by prioritising countries that have a limited testing capacity. As a result, a minimum of 10 million Africans will be tested in the next six months. Ultimately, PACT will provide an Africa-focused response to COVID-19 to meet the needs of the Heads of States and Government across Africa. In South Africa, the South African entrepreneurs CapeBio together with the Department of Science and Innovation’s COVID-19 responses team have developed a ground-breaking test kit that promises to significantly speed up the process of identifying positive COVID-19.
EIDM networks as hubs of knowledge
Evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) networks are great vehicles for mobilising resources and knowledge for capacity building. In this case, these networks are collaborating in the aid of preventing COVID-19.
In the quest to garner, share, and learn from new and reliable information at a pace that is rapid and urgent, we have seen an outpouring of goodwill and collaboration across networks. For instance, Cochrane South Africa is part of an international collaboration that aims to monitor, map, and synthesise new evidence for treating and preventing COVID-19 in real-time. Another collaboration is the RECOVR Research Hub funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and developed by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and contributing partners. This hub aims to document the current impacts of COVID-19 in low-and middle-income countries.
In collaboration with other organisations or their members, networks such as AfrEA have used their online and social media platforms to share exemplary preventative measures against COVID-19 with its members. The International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) has launched a global hub of information on evidence into policy in emergencies. This information is to help governments to take steps to prevent public health threats, to provide medical care, and to implement safety measures.
As champions in advocating for the use of evidence in decision-making, the Africa Evidence Network (AEN) has dedicated a bilingual web page called EIDM during COVID-19 that shows how evidence is being used to address a wide range of decisions across Africa. The web page covers various topics such as public transport safety during COVID-19, public use of cloth face masks, and cash transfer programmes to name a few. The website showcases the efforts, capacity, and prowess of African researchers and decision-makers in the response to a global pandemic.
Organisations work together to find a cure
Addressing the current COVID-19 pandemic also requires much-needed collaboration even within and amongst the EIDM community. The Africa Centre for Evidence (ACE) at the University of Johannesburg, for instance, is responding to COVID-19 in number ways to support decision-makers. One response is to create a hub of hubs, a one-stop-shop portal to navigate the large number of available evidence sources for decision-makers and researchers. The Centre is also partnering with the McMaster Health Forum, the Ottawa Hospital, and Trillium Health Partners who have jointly launched COVID-END, an inventory of COVID-19 evidence sources that decision-makers can use to get the best science to inform their decisions and recommendations. There has not been a more compelling time for African scientists to collaborate with international scientists to strengthen the response to the virus in Africa. For this reason, Constituency for Africa (CFA) has partnered with Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and diaspora organisations to work with the Africa Centres for Disease Control on the COVID-19 response.
The underlying slogan of the Africa Evidence Network - “only together can evidence-informed decision-making become a reality”- has never rung as true as it does today. Recent months have seen many global efforts to equip governments and humanity to fight against COVID-19: the pandemic has forced the world to work together by sharing information and resources to mitigate the effects of this virus. This collaboration, catalysed by a crisis, has enabled governments around the world to act swiftly in implementing safety measures to protect humanity as a powerful force for good.
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About the author
Precious Motha works in the field of networks for policy engagement in the evidence-informed decision-making sector as a Programme Officer for the Africa Evidence Network and Events Coordinator at the Africa Centre for Evidence based at the University of Johannesburg.
The author(s) is solely responsible for the content of this article, including all errors or omissions; acknowledgements do not imply endorsement of the content. The author is grateful to Nasreen Jessani for guidance in the preparation and finalization of this article, as well as Charity Chisoro and Linda Etale for their feedback on a previous version of this article. The author would also like to thank Natalie Tannous for her editorial support.