Panafrican News Agency

The EU’s global response to coronavirus: "supporting our partner countries – The Gambia included" - Ambassador Lajos

Banjul, Gambia (PANA) - European Union Ambassador to The Gambia Attila Lajos Thursday called for global cooperation to fight the coronavirus (COVIC-19).

 “The coronavirus pandemic is a global crisis. Tackling it will require global cooperation. Strong European support to The Gambia’s efforts to fight the spread of the virus is necessary to end this crisis and prevent social instability and insecurity,” he said.

Lajos said the EU would secure financial support to partner countries amounting to more than €15.6 billion from existing external action resources to address the immediate health crisis and resulting humanitarian needs in partner countries, as well as longer term and structural impact on their societies and economies.

“The funding is divided into three areas: €502 million for the urgent, short-term emergency response; €2.8 billion to support research, health and water systems in partner countries; and €12.28 billion to address the economic and social consequences.

“Together with our partners, we are making sure that the substantial EU funding already allocated to them is targeted to help them deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

According to him, from the overall package of €15.6 billion, €3.25 billion are channelled to Africa, including €2.06 billion for sub-Saharan Africa and €1.19 billion for the Northern African neighbourhood countries.

In addition, the overall package includes another €1.42 billion in guarantees for Africa and the neighbourhood from the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD).

He further said, the entire staff of the EU Delegation in Banjul had been tirelessly working on exactly that.

“We are currently formulating actions together with the Gambian Government, state services and partner institutions focusing on four key areas - health response, food security, socio-economic impacts and rule of law.”

He pointed out that the present situation put an enormous pressure on the government’s budget and thus, the EU was working to frontload its budget support, meaning that the support for 2020 will be disbursed months earlier than initially planned.

“We now foresee a budget support disbursement of EUR 9 million (cca.512 million Dalasi) early May. As it is entirely up to the Government of The Gambia to decide how this support is spent, this should allow the Government to buffer some of the more devastating effects of the crisis, especially for the most disadvantaged.

“This initial disbursement should be followed by another, bigger fund transfer of EUR 22,5 million (over 1.28 billion Dalasi) in July/August.

“In The Gambia, the EU’s response is rapid and concrete. With our partners, we have immediately adapted the activities of a number of EU projects in order to address this unprecedented crisis. This is what will allow UNICEF to provide cash transfers (around 1500 GMD) to around 6,000 households in Central River Region, North Bank Region and Upper River Region,” he said.

Lajos also said this would allow local production of 40,000 facemasks by (International Trypanotolerance Centre (ITC) - Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) and 2,000 Personal protective equipment (PPE) suits by IOM - to be donated to frontline medical staff. In both cases, these interventions create economic opportunities for young Gambians.

“Crises are also game-changers, and this crisis might be the opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to take advantage of the opportunities offered by 3D-printing in The Gambia,” he said.

Beyond this, he said the EU was currently working on designing new interventions that would strengthen The Gambia’s preparedness for the management of covid-19 cases.

“Similarly, we are looking at means to provide those affected by the economic slowdown to overcome the most difficult times of the crisis – such as the possibilities offered by mobile banking, until resuming normal economic activity becomes a realistic prospect,” he said.

He added: “Our response to tackle the coronavirus will focus on specific additional needs faced by the countries for this pandemic. Africa is a priority for the EU. We are proposing to re-allocate, accelerate and prioritise €3.25 billion from existing programmes to respond to the needs in Africa.”

Lajos further said, like the rest of the world, African countries faced immediate healthcare needs and would also bear the economic and social consequences of the global pandemic, pointing that protecting fiscal space to safeguard social services, and maintaining security would be critical.

“Through the EU Delegations, we are monitoring the situation in each country on a daily basis, making sure our response is context-specific and adapted to the local needs.

“Support will focus on strengthening preparedness and response capacities of countries with the weakest healthcare systems. The EU is also funding research, which is helping to detect and prevent the transmission of the coronavirus in Africa,” he said.

He disclosed that the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) was in particular determined to address basic health needs of vulnerable groups such as internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants.

 According to him, under the EUTF, the EU is working closely with all its partners on the ground to ensure equal access to the healthcare system and strive for disease prevention and health promotion especially among the most vulnerable such as populations on the move.

He stressed that the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership would strengthen research capacities in sub-Saharan Africa and would focus on developing surveillance capabilities and diagnostics, validating existing tests and trialling therapeutics for promising agents.

He said the EU would accelerate investment in coronavirus testing labs in Africa through €80 million for the European Health Guarantee Platform for Africa, working with the European Investment Bank, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“This global pandemic can be controlled only if there is an inclusive approach which protects every individual’s rights to life and health,” he noted.

Lajos stated that the coronavirus pandemic would exacerbate food systems fragility already being addressed through EU humanitarian and development response programmes.

According to him, the 2019 Global Report on Food Crisis illustrates in stark terms the hunger caused by conflict and insecurity, climate shocks and economic turbulence.

“The 2020 Report will be unveiled in the coming weeks and discussions are ongoing with Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Food Programme (WFP), amongst others, to gauge the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic will impact in the coming weeks and months agri-food supply chains in developing countries and how best to reach out small farmers to sustain their livelihoods,” he revealed. 

“Public financing needs are expected to rise considerably over the coming weeks and months in developing countries, and actions undertaken by multilateral creditors will not be sufficient to close the financing gap.

“In this context, the joint appeal by the IMF and the World Bank (WB) on a debt moratorium for the poorest countries, with concessional loans from the International Development Association (IDA), aims at easing the debt burden from bilateral official creditors. The EU is supportive of this global, coordinated response,” he said.

Lajos stated that the EU and its member-stares would be channelling a significant portion of their response to the coronavirus pandemic through the United Nations.

“It is expected that a significant proportion of the EU’s humanitarian response as part of this package will go to programmes covered by the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for the coronavirus.

“But the EU will also make funding available directly to the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and to Non-Governmental Organizations. Direct support to Governments will of course remain at the core of our response since a very large share of our support in-country will consist of budget support directly transferred to the respective Treasuries,” he pointed out.

According to him, with up to €140 million, the European Commission will support research on diagnostics, treatment and prevention, including €90 million through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a partnership between the EU and the pharmaceutical industry, and through the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), a partnership between the EU, 14 European countries and 16 African countries.  


-0-    PANA    MSS/RA   23Apr2020