Cape Town — COVID-19’s impact on big business across the continent is well documented, however, the pandemic’s effect on small to medium business enterprises cannot be overlooked. Speaking during an online media briefing, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, said that 70% of Africa’s working population earns their livelihoods in the informal sector.
As economic growth slows, Moeti said the UN Economic Commission for Africa projected that up to 27 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty due to the pandemic.
“At the WHO we are working closely with our sister UN agencies and other partners to mitigate the socioeconomic impacts,” Moeti said.
“We are encouraging a context-specific, risk-based approach with adjustments to facilitate physical distancing, improved access to handwashing facilities, and strengthened hygiene practices.”
Moeti said the importance of grassroots activities – like a recent door-to-door campaign in Chad where information on COVID-29 was shared with over 33,000 people – help people to understand how they can protect themselves and others while also combating misinformation around the outbreak.
“On the public health front, several African countries have recently increased their testing capacities for COVID-19, including São Tomé and Príncipe where we deployed a team this past week.
In some of these countries we’re seeing an increase in cases and in others, new cases remain stable from week to week, indicating we need to remain vigilant to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Moeti said.
Polio eradication expertise backs Africa’s COVID-19 response
Expertise in polio eradication that has put Africa on the verge of being certified free of wild poliovirus has been brought to the frontlines of COVID-19 fight.
A network of responders from the World Health Organization Polio Eradication Programme and partner organizations is providing critical resources and skills to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In Africa, no one has the footprint of the polio programme nor the expertise for mounting effective response campaigns.
So with COVID-19 threatening to overwhelm health systems, the extensive polio response network is once again lending crucial support as countries build up systems to contain COVID-19,” said Moeti.
Alongside the support to the COVID-19 response, WHO polio staff are also maintaining critical functions and planning to resume mass polio immunization campaigns once the situation permits.
“It is important that the support to COVID-19 response does not jeopardize the progress made in stopping all forms of polio transmission in the region. The fight against the pandemic should not come at the detriment of other health emergencies,” said Moeti.
Across the continent, COVID-19 has disrupted mass polio vaccination campaigns in line with the global physical distancing recommendations that limit COVID-19 transmission.
The suspension of high-quality immunization rounds may risk new polio outbreaks due to low coverage.
Mali’s response to COVID-19
Safia Boly, Minister of Investment Promotion, Small and Medium Enterprises and National Entrepreneurship in Mali, shared how COVID-19 has impacted the economic prospects of the informal sector in her country. “We have a strong economy that was growing at a steady 5% before the pandemic,” she said.
“When we were faced with the pandemic, which was declared in Mali in the middle of March, the government started a series of measures very early on in terms of checking temperatures at the borders before we went and eventually closed them.”
Boly went on to share the latest COVID-19 statistics from Mali. “The Minister of health has been very active and dynamic in making sure that there’s a very strong campaign of communication going on in terms of social distancing and in terms of other measures that need to be taken for prevention,” Boly said.
“As of today, we have about 1,200 confirmed cases. We have about 80 deaths and we have over 700 that have already left the hospitals and have been healed so from that perspective, it’s a very bright horizon for us.”
The economic impact of COVID-19 on Mali’s economy has led to the government developing a “strong SMEs work program”, according to Boly.
“The Malian economy is multi-layered like many sub-Saharan countries. The two main contributors to our GDP are gold and cotton.
“We produced about 66 tons of gold last year and about 700,000 tons of cotton. Agriculture and agribusiness are very strong in Mali but if we look at the economy as a pyramid … the bottom of the pyramid are very much the small enterprises which contribute about 70% to the economy, the majority of which are in the informal sector.”
Boly explained how the informal sector reacted to the outbreak. “In the unstructured market, they were very much impacted by the pandemic in terms of the closure of the border.”
Boly said that the country’s curfew was an additional factor. “As a result, some of the SMEs that operated at night were heavily impacted for a period of about a month and a half and had to adapt and find resilience in their way of operating.”
Mali’s tourism industry was also heavily affected due to the lack of incoming travellers and the decision to close the nation’s borders, Boly said. “We had however kept the borders open for cargo but, naturally, the rate of receiving cargo became slower and slower.
Being a landlocked country, we depend heavily on importation and that means the factories in countries we bought cargo were not operating due to their own lockdowns,” said Boly.