Victory against the COVID-19 pandemic remains possible as long as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) shares best practices and operates as one regional bloc, the Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers of Health and those responsible for HIV/AIDS and Malawi Minister of Health, Honourable Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, has said.
She commended SADC for being the first to detect and report on the Omicron variant and indicated that this showed the potential the Region has in making a meaningful contribution in the global fight against COVID-19. Hon. Chiponda said this when she opened a virtual meeting of SADC Ministers of Health and those responsible for HIV/AIDS to review the COVID-19 situation in the Region on 10th February 2022.
The meeting, which was chaired by the Republic of Malawi, accorded the Ministers the opportunity to consider updates on the COVID-19 status in the Region and reflect on possible courses of action to mitigate the adverse socio-economic effects of the pandemic.
The meeting was attended by Ministers and or their representatives from Angola, Botswana, Kingdom of Eswatini, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and United Republic of Tanzania. The meeting was also attended by representatives from World Health Organisation (WHO) and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
Hon. Chiponda said since the first COVID-19 case was registered in the SADC Region in March, 2020, life has never been the same as all SADC Member States have had their share of losses and disruptions to socio-economic activities from the pandemic. She said the damage has ranged from the loss of lives, extra burden on fragile health systems, economic losses, decline in Foreign Direct Investments, increased vulnerability due to reduction in social protection measures and an increase in mental health concerns.
The minister thanked development partners for the continued support to the Region towards the COVID-19 response. She observed that since the SADC Region does not manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, the support from the partners towards procurement of the vaccines remains critical. She highlighted the need for SADC to be capacitated to establish its own plants for manufacturing the vaccines.
SADC Executive Secretary, His Excellency Elias Mpedi Magosi, in remarks delivered on his behalf by SADC Deputy Executive Secretary for Corporate Affairs, Ambassador Joseph Nourrice, commended the Region for having approved the Guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures for tracking, monitoring and facilitating cross-border movement of goods and people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, he regretted that Member States introduced several requirements, laws, regulations, systems, and measures to implement the Guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures, but these have neither been harmonised nor synchronised, resulting in disruptions to cross border transport with adverse impacts on trade, movement of persons and tourism.
The Executive Secretary cautioned that despite the encouraging epidemiological changes observed in the Region in recent weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a threat to the regional integration agenda because of the disruptions it inflicts on businesses, trade, tourism, movement of people as well as the health and wellbeing of citizens.
He commended those countries in the Region that have adapted to the situation and learnt how to do business differently by keeping economic activities going on with strict adherence to public health measures. He said it will be unrealistic and counter-productive to keep countries under indefinite lockdowns as this cripples normal business for longer periods since no one knows when the pandemic will end.
The Ministers noted the prevailing COVID-19 situation in the Region with a decline in number of new cases and with less cases of severe infections leading to hospitalisation and the progress in COVID-19 vaccination recorded by each Member State.
They urged Member States to engage donors to release donated doses in large volumes, in a predictable manner, in order to reduce transaction costs taking into account the minimum of three months’ shelf life, at least a four-week notice period to recipient Member State and readiness to receive such donations.
With respect to the SADC guidelines to facilitate the movement of persons and goods during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministers urged Member States to continue consulting with one another through the Secretariat, any planned changes to COVID-19 related laws, regulations, procedures, and requirements that affect cross border movement of goods and persons and tourism.
They reviewed progress on the development and deployment of the Electronic Surveillance and Monitoring System (Corridor Trip Monitoring System and Tripartite Traveler Application), including the setting-up and operationalisation of the centralised data centre for hosting the CTMS application and data servers in Namibia by April 2022.
The Ministers also reviewed reports of fake COVID-19 PCR test results by some travelers and challenges of costly and repeated tests by cross border truck drivers and agreed that using digital surveillance system, among other measures, will assist in addressing some of these challenges. The Ministers directed the Secretariat to update the regional guidelines and standard operating procedures to take into consideration the changing epidemiological situation and the need to ease current restrictions in order to facilitate the reopening of regional economies.