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Univ. webinar discusses COVID-19 effect in Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a “severe and widespread shock” to African countries, unlike anything they have faced in the past 30 years, said Professor Joseph K. Assan (HS) in a webinar hosted by the university on March 24. The panelists focused the conversation specifically on the effects of the pandemic in Africa, given the large span of the issue in this region, and discussed policy changes which could help.

“We need to develop a new global social vulnerability framework that emphasizes on addressing local issues as regards to how they tie into national development and frameworks,”said Assan. 

The webinar discussed how the World Bank declared the COVID-19 pandemic to have caused the reversal of several decades worth of progress in terms of poverty reduction and human well-being globally. African countries were especially hit hard during this time as they encountered a significant recession with an additional 2.4 percent contraction in their gross domestic product (GDP), Assan explained. This caused African countries to struggle to make testing for COVID-19 accessible for the general public, they faced a financing gap of $290 billion compared to other major economies.

Tawiah Agyarko-Kwarteng, coordinator of Empowered to Educate, a program which helps women educators forge equitable paths, discussed her research surrounding the effect of COVID-19 on women in West African communities. Agyarko-Kwarteng has experience on rural livelihoods and households, specifically in West Africa’s cocoa growing communities.

Cocoa farmers undergo lots of training on a variety of topics from good agricultural practices to human rights, according to Agyarko-Kwarteng. With this training becoming digitized, many women were, however, excluded from these opportunities throughout the pandemic. This is because “the ownership of mobile phones amongst women in rural communities [is] far lower than men,” said Agyarko-Kwarteng. Additionally, some trainings are offered only to members of farming groups or farmer collectives, this poses another challenge for women. 

“All of these are issues that were there, and have been there, in the past…And it’s only come out more through the onset of the pandemic,” siad Agyarko-Kwarteng. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, African households face additional chores, increases in household expenses, increases in prices of food and commodities and changes to children’s learning, according to Agyarko-Kwarteng. School closures caused learning gaps due to an exposure to child labor and limited remote educational opportunities. This “poses stress for the mothers because mothers have a lot of consent for the children’s education and advancement… There’s a lot of mental stress,” Agarko-Kwarteng said.

Kaya ChildCare is an organization aimed at providing early childhood education, support and resources to the children of Kayayei. This is a resource meant to relieve stress on the mothers. Panelist Rose Dodd, an alumna from Ashesi University, shared her work with the organization where they “bring [the children] together to get them ready for primary” by teaching, feeding and supporting them. Dodd said at the center they organized packages for families, which include face masks and sanitizers. 

The panelists gave insight into their own policy recommendations for the situation. Assan considered the implications of instituting a carbon tax throughout Africa. He explained that it would increase the substantial revenue while working to address climate change. Though there is a concern that the tax would increase the cost of living with higher prices for fuel, food and other welfare costs through a domino effect. 

He also proposed three main ways of managing the impact of the pandemic, which include “access to sufficient and affordable financing to recover, strengthened job creation policies and increased access to affordable and reliable healthcare.” 

In time of crisis and emergency, policy makers need to “increase the relevance of their interventions by leveraging the knowledge and experience of community-based organizations who frequently engage the beneficiaries,” said Dodd. Agarko-Kwarteng agreed, stressing the need for a “stronger reliance on the community and the social and cultural structures that we already have in place.”

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