This is the best time to plan for urban Africa’s next health emergency

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16th April 2020

Prof Tolu Oni

On Quartz Africa


Professor of urban epidemiology, Cambridge University & University of Cape Town

Health, it turns out, is everybody’s business. The Covid-19 pandemic has made this clear, laying bare the gaping cracks in our societal systems that have driven the emergence and unprecedented transmission of a novel coronavirus; and highlighting the need for a more health-aligned societal reset.

An important step on the journey to reset is re-thinking and reframing our definition of an emergency response; and key to this is internalizing the preventable nature of (this and future) health emergencies. The conventional response to pandemics is to convene emergency response and preparedness teams. The response team deals with addressing the very real response required to the ongoing emergency, while the preparedness component seeks to strengthen capacities of communities to better weather emergencies and resist emerging hazards.

In addition to these necessary actions, I propose that the onset of an emergency should trigger an extraordinary convening of coordinated emergency foresight teams across sectors and geographical boundaries to develop and effect strategies  and action plans for long term change to reduce vulnerability to, and the risk of future emergencies. Beyond the acute period, the aim would be to integrate foresight activities into core programming across sectors to proactively prevent future health emergencies.

The vast majority of news and opinion pieces on Africa and the pandemic have focused on the potential for devastation and the need for reactive responses that have ranged from protection to solidarity. But what is missing from these discussions, both in Africa and beyond is the urgent need for foresight to address the social, environmental and economic factors that have inadvertently colluded to contribute to the emergence of a pandemic and increase the risk of transmission and poor health outcomes. The lag in the manifestation of the pandemic in Africa offers an opportunity for Africa to take a lead on a proactive and seemingly paradoxical approach of emergency foresight.

Read the full article on Quartz Africa