Summit adopts strategies to accelerate COVID-19 response

Participants at a virtual Summit on accelerated response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday adopted “pro-equity” strategies for women, children and adolescents to speed up response to, and recovery from, the disease.

The participants, who were from all parts of the world, adopted the strategies at the end of the two-day activity christened: “Lives in the Balance” Summit: Equity in COVID-19 Response and Recovery”. 

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the summit was organised by Maternal Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), together with the CORE Group, Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Government officials from Nigeria, South Africa, Liberia, Kenya, Panama, Malawi among others, who spoke at the event, focused on the devastation of the pandemic on women, children and adolescents.

Dr Zweli Lawrence Mkhize, Minister of Health, South Africa, in his remark, said that COVID-19 had devastated economies and affected social and community life.

He said that women, children and adolescents had been significantly affected worldwide. 

Mkhize said that his country had reviewed national COVID-19 policies to improve sexual and reproductive health.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that in December 2020, at a previous “Lives in the Balance” Summit, 10 national governments and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation issued statements prioritising women, children and adolescents’ health in the COVID-19 response plans.

The statements outlined a significant array of efforts to improve gender equality, service quality, and adolescent health and well-being, among other priorities.

At the virtual summit that ended on Wednesday, the statements were revisited by senior government officials from Nigeria, Kenya and Liberia, who updated participants on progress since December 2020.

Nigeria had announced a commitment of 2.3 billion dollars at the December 2020 meeting for strategic interventions across the health sector during 2020-2028.

The  country’s officials updated participants on the efforts to protect and support health workers across the country, 70 per cent of which were women.

According to the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, the country is making sure that salaries are paid on time while compulsory infection control measures are being adopted.

He said that capacity building had been sustained with more people being trained.

“We ensure that when it is time for leave, that people go on leave, and that connectivity between the states and the federal governments with respect to task-shifting and task-sharing among health workers is properly managed,” Ehanire said.

Similar efforts were echoed in a number of country statements including from South Africa, Malawi and Panama.

The statements said that the countries had committed to strengthening the health workforce and addressing gender disparities, including their effect on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

It said that special attention was being paid to gender-based violence.

Dr Luis Francisco Sucre, Minister of Health in Panama, specifically noted that within the first 100 days of 2021, the vaccination of health workers, the elderly and pregnant women was underway as part of the declaration of equity of vaccines.

Malawi, on its part, highlighted a presidential initiative to expand the health workforce during COVID-19.

“Staffing budgets this year have increased by nearly 50 per cent to improve the quality of care for women, children and adolescents.

“The pandemic has put so much stress on our workforce, especially those working in hospitals.

“Our President, Dr Lazarus Chakwera, has made a directive that we should employ 1,380 additional health care workers to support the response.

“This was an opportunity to increase our numbers so that we offer quality health care service to our people, especially the women, children and adolescents.

“In our national budget, we have set aside 58.3 million dollars for personnel, which is a 45 per cent increase from last year,” Mr Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, its health minister, said.

NAN reports that a seven-point Call to Action on COVID-19, backed by PMNCH’s 1,000-member platform, sought to protect and prioritise the rights and health of women, children and adolescents during the COVID-19 response and recovery.

The call focused on strengthening investment, policies and services for the recovery of health services, as well as protection of rights and future socio-economic resilience.

It noted that COVID-19 had exacerbated underlying inequities, with vulnerable populations that were already living on the margins worst hit by the pandemic. 

“The knock-on impact of the pandemic on childhood vaccination in lower income countries has been devastating, with millions of children missing out on timely, life-saving immunisations.

“As a co-host of the Third Lives in the Balance Summit, we look forward to highlighting the imperative of keeping equity at the centre of the COVID-19 response with special focus on addressing the needs of women, children and adolescents,” Anuradha Gupta, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said. 

NAN reports that the meeting had participants from the civil society, the UN, academia, the private sector and governments, who all focused on possible solutions to the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic, including concrete and measurable commitments to investment and policy change.

The summit particularly noted that women, children and adolescents bore the brunt of a “shadow pandemic”, threatening decades of progress in improving health and rights. 

The more than 1,000 participants from around the world highlighted the need for targeted investments in pro-equity programmes and policies to combat the devastating social and economic effects of COVID-19.(NAN)