The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly grown around the world. The present situation can be described as the crisis of Human Security with multidimensional threats and we need to make collective effort to leave no most-vulnerable people behind. Ethiopia, as well as the African continent as a whole, has been seriously damaged, and so has Japan. In the case of Japan, since the early stages of the domestic spread of COVID-19, the government has detected the spread of virus in an early stage and actively implemented countermeasures such as the tracking and testing of close contacts of infected patients, the so called “cluster approach”. This combined with good access to medical institutions, the high level of medical services including in rural areas, and the people’s increased awareness of hygiene and health, have so far resulted in a low number of infections and deaths in comparison to many other countries.
Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is spreading in Africa and could peak later on. In the African continent, varying from country to country, governments, international and regional organizations are taking actions to suppress the transmission and control the spread of COVID-19. With previous experience fighting against infectious deceases，the number of infected patients in Africa is relatively controlled. However, its negative impacts to people’s health as well as political, economic, and social dimensions are extraordinary.
Under these circumstances, Japan, respecting Africa’s efforts to fight against COVID-19, has provided as much support as possible and will continue to do so. No country and region in the world can avoid the damage caused by COVID-19 and we need exceptional solidarity at the international level to tackle with this virus. Since Japan has useful experiences and know-how in establishing domestic health systems in general and countermeasures against COVID-19 in particular, Japan would like to support Africa’s efforts. Japan will never forget the solidarity and assistance provided by many countries and people around the world, including from Africa, when the Great East Japan Earthquake hit us on 11 March 2011. At the time when Africa and the world are facing serious difficulties, it is our responsibility to do what we can.
In fact, collaborating with African countries, including Ethiopia, international organizations, and with regional organizations such as the African CDC, Japan conducts technical cooperation to train healthcare and medical workers and provides financial assistance for medical equipment.
One of the biggest challenges for the time being is the development and production of and a fair access to COVID-19 treatment medicines and vaccines. For these developments, Japan has domestically accelerated research and development and has provided the relevant international organizations, such as CEPI and GAVI, with financial support. In addition, Prime Minister Abe intends to propose the sharing of COVID-19 pharmaceutical treatments and vaccines, from which developing countries can benefit, under a transparent global framework.
Japan’s contribution to the health sector in Africa is one of the major pillars which was reaffirmed at the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7 -TICAD is a summit level conference held every 3 years in which Japanese and African political leaders and other international stakeholders take part to discuss African development), which was held last year in Yokohama, Japan. Japan has been and continue enhancing its support to promote universal health coverage (UHC) and to strengthen capabilities against infectious diseases in Africa through international organizations such as WHO.
The relationship in the field of health between Japan and Africa is long-lasting and rich. A prominent Japanese medical doctor, Dr. NOGUCHI Hideyo, conducted research on Yellow fever and died of this infectious disease in Ghana in 1928. Commemorating his contribution, Ghana’s Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research was established in 1979 with the support of Japan and these days this institution plays a major role in fighting against COVID-19 in Ghana and the region.
The Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize was established by the Government of Japan and is awarded to those who contribute to medical research and activities in Africa. In 2019, the Third Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize was awarded to Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Dr. Francis Gervase Omaswa (Republic of Uganda). Dr. Muyembe-Tamfum, who contributed to research on Ebola, is the General Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Research. Japan supported facilities for medical examination and research, training, and clinical trial at this institute and now it is a national hub in fighting against COVID-19 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The rapid global spread of COVID-19 poses a serious threat not only to people’s survival, but also to the economic and social aspects. Japan is carrying out support projects to mitigate those negative socio-economic effects in Africa. Looking forward to Africa’s economic recovery and development after COVID-19, Japan supports “build back better” in Africa. While the implementation of AfCFTA has been delayed due to the pandemic, Japan will continue to promote a favorable overall investment environment, industrial human resource development, and quality infrastructure to enhance connectivity, as far as the situation allows us to do so, under due attention to the COVID-19 situation.
In addition, another important challenge is to mobilize and ensure the necessary financial resources for countering COVID-19 and socio-economic recovery in African countries from the damages brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, I would like to express my sincere respect for the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, H.E. Dr. Abiy Ahmed, and the President of South Africa, H.E. Cyril Ramaphosa among others for taking global leadership to cope with this issue.
Japan, as one of the member countries of the G20, is committed to implementing the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) that suspends official bilateral debt payments for the poorest countries. Japan stresses the importance of allocating the funds released by the DSSI to the urgent financing needs that have arisen due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Also, Japan expects that this initiative can eventually ensure debt transparency as well as debt sustainability.
The COVID-19 pandemic may negatively affect peace and stability in Africa , while revealing the vulnerability of administrative institutions of African countries. At the TICAD 7, Prime Minister Abe announced NAPSA (New Approach for Peace and Stability in Africa), which assists institution building among others, along with the principle of approaching to root-cause of conflict and terrorism, highly considering Africa’s ownership for conflict solution. Under the current circumstance in Africa, institution building and human capacity development are the most urgent tasks. Japan would like to support those areas so that everybody’s welfare and dignity in Africa are assured and no one left behind, thus realizing Agenda 2063, the Africa which African people want.
At last, I would like to note that the TICAD8 scheduled in 2022 was officially decided to be held in Tunisia. TICAD 8 will be a meaningful opportunity to discuss the agenda for African development among Africa, Japan, and other development partners, taking into consideration the situation in Africa after the COVID-19 pandemic.
I will definitively leave the country after completing my 2 years mission as the Ambassador of Japan to the African Union. Taking this opportunity, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my friends in Ethiopia, Africa, and partners of Africa for your hospitality and friendship. Africa is a continent of hopes and opportunity. I believe Africa’s prosperity and stability, overcoming the current difficulties.
Ed.’s Note: Fumio Shimizu is Ambassador of Japan to the African Union. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.
Contributed by Fumio Shimizu