The African Union’s Online COVID-19 Marketplace

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SEATTLE, Washington — While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the global community, many African nations are often indirectly excluded from international dialogue. As Africa continues to struggle with the virus, African Union (AU) member states joined forces with one another to develop a multilateral digital marketplace for personal protective equipment, tests and other supplies. The African Union’s online COVID-19 marketplace has allowed numerous countries to gain access to vital equipment, drastically cutting both infection and death rates across the entire continent.

COVID-19 in African Nations

Original models on the spread of COVID-19 predicted that Africa would be hit especially hard due to crowded conditions handicapping social distancing initiatives. Many feared that hospitals would become overwhelmed and unable to handle the large influx of patients.

However, the majority of African countries are faring quite well. For instance, South Africa’s death rate for the first wave of infections was seven times lower than Britain’s; even after considering potential inaccuracies, the country performed much better than expected. Scientists attribute the successes to a relatively young population, early lockdowns and clear information about social distancing and masks.

Despite this, the continent is far from immune. In May 2020, AU member states reported over 100,000 cases and 3,100 deaths. Smaller countries with higher rates of poverty such as Djibouti and São Tomé have been hit hardest, due to both higher population density and less developed healthcare infrastructure. Even as the first wave died down, some countries have experienced resurgences, such as Morocco which has recently had to reimpose lockdown restrictions.

African Union’s Digital COVID-19 Marketplace

As the pandemic continued, officials sought unity with one another to help mitigate the effects of the virus. In June of 2020, a joint project by the African Union, Africa CDC and other African organizations and companies, launched the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP).

The Africa Medical Supplies Platform is an online marketplace, similar to sites like Amazon, that sells various rapid testing kits, N95 masks, ventilators and more, directly from the distributor. This system has effectively reduced delays in distribution, combatted shortages across the entire continent and is estimated to save the countries billions. In February of 2020, only two African countries had access to testing; today, all 54 nations have testing capabilities.

The Road Ahead

As COVID-19 sweeps the globe, so too do supply shortages. In response, some non-African countries have turned to the AMSP as a way to access critical equipment. For instance, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) signed on, a move that granted all member states greater access to personal protective equipment as the fight against the virus continues.

As the first stages of vaccine testing begin, officials plan to use African Union’s online COVID-19 marketplace as a distribution platform, hoping that this will help ensure equitable access to the vaccine. Today, Cameroon, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and other sub-Saharan countries are all able to conduct clinical trials, contributing towards ending Africa’s reliance on overseas support. South Africa’s Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, has reaffirmed that despite being in need, African nations are still able to contribute to global efforts.

Despite initial concerns about Africa’s ability to handle COVID-19, it has fared surprisingly well in the face of an unprecedented health crisis. Its development of an international marketplace for distribution has greatly improved supply and distribution using the Africa Medical Supplies Platform across over 50 different nations. Although Africa continues to struggle with COVID-19 and poverty, it is indeed very capable and competent. Countries across Africa are more than capable of contributing to international dialogue, especially during these dire times.

Elizabeth Lee
Photo: Flickr

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