On 11 March 2020, our lives were changed in an unprecedented way. The World Health Organisation officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Every country, every sector, every business, and every individual around the world has either already been or will be, in some way or form, affected by the outbreak.

In this episode of the Jersey Heard podcast, our Global Head of Business Development Allan Wood speaks to Fergus Drake and Bryan Richmond about some of the work Crown Agents are doing to support governments and other organisations prepare and respond to the increasing global spread of COVID-19.

Who are Crown Agents?

Crown Agents is a not-for-profit international development organisation with 187 years of history working alongside governments and multilateral organisations to provide expertise in procurement, last mile supply chains, health systems strengthening, and responding to crises.

Crown Agents are responding to the global demands resulting from COVID-19 and are working across 45 countries and Overseas Territories to support leaders in preparing and responding to the virus.

To date, they have procured and delivered more than 261 shipments of medical equipment and supplies across the world, and this figure is increasing every day.

The organisation is also delivering numerous life-saving programmes across West, East and Southern Africa, so it comes as no surprise that they are focussing heavily on adapting these programmes to support governments across the continent in the fight against the virus.

The impact of COVID-19 in Africa

With Africa set to become the next epicentre of the pandemic, there is no doubt that the continent is facing a massive challenge as it attempts to tackle the impact of COVID-19.

Fragile health systems and weak infrastructure across the continent will struggle to cope with the virus and the economic impact of a rapid rise in cases is expected to be widespread and significant. Fergus and Bryan discuss some of the vital actions that can be taken by governments and development and humanitarian organisations in order to tackle some of the challenges facing the continent.

As Fergus explains on the podcast, some commentators have broken the current crisis down into three stages – firstly, a health crisis; then, a humanitarian crisis; and finally, an economic crisis.

With many already in agreement that the economic impact and subsequent ramifications may be far more negatively impactful than the immediate health consequences, Crown Agents explain that they anticipate two key risks.

Firstly, overcrowding, malnutrition rates and a general lack of health spending mean that COVID-19 could penetrate Africa much faster and deeper than we have seen in other countries.

Many African countries do not have the equipment to deal with the pandemic. For example, in the UK, there are 28 doctors per 10,000 people. In Nigeria, there are four doctors per 10,000 people, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) it is even less, with 0.9 doctors per 10,000 people.

To make matters worse, four out of ten Nigerians do not have access to basic hand washing facilities at home, and in both Nigeria and the DRC, only 4% of GDP is spent on health, while in Italy and the UK this figure is 9%.

Secondly, is the economic impact and whether or not we enter another ‘Great Depression’ as a result of the pandemic.

As Crown Agents explain, unlike what we have recently seen implemented across the UK and Europe, there are no ‘safety net structures’ or ‘furlough payment schemes’ ready to support the African economy.

Implementing similar lock down measures in African countries simply will not be possible. Many will be forced to choose between going outside and risk becoming infected or staying at home and potentially starving.

The World Food Programme (WFP) have already warned that there are currently 135 million people at risk of food insecurity across Africa – a figure which they predict could rise to 250 million.

On the other hand, further studies have suggested that there could be an additional 70 million Africans in extreme poverty each year, as a result of the coronavirus. This will mainly be due to forex shocks, oil prices being down, people not being able to travel into Africa at the same level as in the past, and credit flight out of the continent.

Private sector support

As highlighted on the podcast, one of the key steps to overcoming the pandemic will be for governments, private sectors, and development sectors to work more closely together as partners.

While Crown Agents continue to respond to immediate needs and look to the long-term economic impacts on countries, they will be aiming to work closely with the private sector in order to bring in financing, capabilities, and support where it can play a catalytic role.

Fergus explains there are two areas where the private sector can partner with Crown Agents:

“Firstly, Crown Agents can act as an implementing partner for corporates or foundations wanting to take care of a COVID-19 response need for their own company or area of the world they are serving.

Secondly, it is crucial that we respond both to the significant immediate needs of COVID-19, but also that we prioritise developing the long-term resilience and self-sufficiency of countries’ health services, governance and leaders – so that we do not add to the ‘sticking plaster’ activities out there.

As a not-for-profit organisation, Crown Agents have launched a fund to ask philanthropists and foundations to provide the generous funding needed to enable us to do more to support governments in responding to the immediate and long-term impacts of COVID-19.”

The Crown Agents fund will be used in three main ways:

  1. To support frontline health workers through sourcing, inspecting, procuring and transporting essential equipment and supplies (e.g. testing kits and lab consumables, personal protective equipment, disinfectant, thermometers and respirators).
  2. To support government health response plans, building on existing activities they are already engaged in. For example, this may include health messaging and behaviour change activities, and also supporting disease surveillance and data collection.
  3. To give technical assistance on health and economic recovery plans, including value for money audits, budgeting, and system reforms etc.

To learn more about Crown Agents, or to find out how you can support them in responding to COVID-19, please visit www.crownagents.com

You can also find out more information about how Jersey Finance is partnering with Crown Agents and other organisations in our community here.