The COVID-19 Pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa Reveals Important Lessons about Adapting Mobility Systems to Meet Public Health Challenges
WASHINGTON — While some countries in sub-Saharan Africa have significant experience dealing with infectious disease outbreaks ranging from Ebola to yellow fever, COVID-19 revealed weaknesses in cross-border coordination on migration and public health, forcing governments to rethink some of their public health strategies. Key among them: how to manage mobility in a way that protects public health yet allows people to safely access their livelihoods, seek protection or reunite with their communities, a new Migration Policy Institute policy brief finds.
From Unilateral Response to Coordinated Action: How Can Mobility Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa Adapt to the Public-Health Challenges of COVID-19? examines the different strategies employed by governments in sub-Saharan Africa during the first year of the pandemic, and the limitations of unilateral action. The policy brief offers recommendations on how states and the international community can work together to restart migration and mobility and, looking forward, build capacity to respond to COVID-19 and future public health emergencies.
The brief offers two key sets of recommendations aimed at integrating public health, migration and economic development perspectives through coordinated action:
1. Policymakers should coordinate closely when planning, implementing and lifting public health measures. Regional and bilateral actions, such as information sharing and streamlining requirements, can mitigate some of the adverse impacts of unilateral or uncoordinated mobility restrictions (such as stranding migrants) and going forward, lay the groundwork for greater harmonization of public health measures.
2. Governments in the region should prioritize strengthening national health-care systems and public health capacity and incorporate a “migration lens” when doing so. Incorporating migrants and refugees into public health strategies, including COVID-19 prevention and response plans, is crucial to respond to the ongoing pandemic and to meet the health needs of migrants going forward.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly highlighted the reality that viruses do not recognize borders, and that internal and cross-border mobility are critical to the vibrancy of economies around the world,” the brief’s authors write. “Building public health systems that integrate and address the realities of mobility, alongside strengthened regional and global cooperation and coordination, are key to ensuring an effective public health response today and to adequately preparing for the pandemics of the future.”
Read the policy brief, authored by Ling San Lau and Monette Zard of Columbia University’s Program on Forced Migration and Health as well as Kate Hooper of MPI, here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/covid19-mobility-systems-sub-saharan-africa.
For a global look at the COVID-19 mobility restrictions imposed by governments around the world during 2020, check out a recent report by MPI and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), COVID-19 and the State of Global Mobility in 2020.
The policy brief on sub-Saharan African pandemic responses is the fifth in the series “Critical Migration Governance Issues in a Changed World,” which results from a partnership between MPI and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Find this and other publications in the series here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/international-program/critical-migration-governance-issues-changed-world.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.