Countries Need Continued Joint Learning and Problem-solving to Curb the COVID-19 Pandemic

Authored by: Dr. Camilla Ducker and Agnes Munyua

The National Coordination of Pandemic Responses Collaborative is based on a shared interest among country leaders for joint learning on pressing challenges, interesting solutions and lessons learnt from the past year of coordinating the COVID-19 pandemic response. The Collaborative is a safe space where members come together, to share common experiences, define the particular challenges they face, and attempt to find mutually beneficial ways to combat the common – and often complex – challenges together.

While the health challenges presented by COVID-19 are similar around the world, the challenges arising from the crisis, in terms of impact to the society and economy are nuanced across countries.

The starting point for the collaborative is the maxim that “no one is safe from the pandemic until everyone is safe”.  And in that context, the pandemic rages on. Whereas some countries, those with high vaccination rates, are starting to think about a post-COVID-19 world. In other countries, COVID-19 remains a real and present threat to billions of people.

Our countries need continued joint learning and problem-solving to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. And the challenges are daunting. Third and fourth waves must be foreseen and planned for, along with the significant economic impacts these will bring. Vaccine supply shortages and inequities, despite being much talked about, require concrete commitments and action. We must also do all we can to address issues of misinformation, myths, and vaccine hesitancy in our countries. This will require patient and painstaking community engagement and intelligent, concise, and targeted communications.

The Collaborative, launched in December 2020, has had an interesting five months of joint learning with representatives from Bahrain, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mongolia, Nigeria, and Senegal. The Collaborative wrapped up the first phase on April 27 with a webinar sharing highlights from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Senegal on their experience over the five months and promising approaches to some common challenges.

Uppermost of these is the need for strong and supportive leadership. One constant of the pandemic, throughout the world, has been decisions taken too late, or half-heartedly. The Collaborative recognizes the burden of decision-making which leaders and representatives bear, but stands firmly behind the principles of collaboration, openness, and accountability. National and subnational governments must work hand-in-hand so that strong national leadership results in guidance and support that spreads throughout communities. Early, fearless engagement, and leadership at community level are also an integral part of the response.

Combatting the pandemic cannot – and should not – be solely the responsibility of the health sector, just as the effects of the pandemic will not be solely health-related. The upheaval in all aspects of community life is immense – and so must our responses be. Therefore, multi-sectoral approaches are essential.

Getting to grips with the colossal impact of COVID-19 on the lives, the health, the livelihoods, and the wellbeing of all our people and communities requires that leaders are accountable for the resources they mobilize and that they work constantly to build and maintain trust. This, perhaps, more than anything is the key to the good governance we so dearly need during this time of crisis.

These lessons may not be new to the health arena but are even more relevant for the COVID-19 crisis we are facing. The Collaborative will be synthesizing these lessons in a short brief soon.

The Collaborative ends the first phase on a high note and looks forward to the next phase of joint learning where four to six country teams will co-create, collaborate and each implement an action plan to address a COVID-19 coordination challenge they are facing. Stay tuned for our next series of blogs where we follow the progress of these countries and share new insights and lessons.

For more insights from this meeting, access the video through this link.