SADC suspends regional meetings

By Rungano Dzikira

SADC health ministers have resolved to suspend face-to-face regional meetings until such a time when COVID-19 has been contained, at the emergence meeting held in Tanzania on the 9th of March.

In a statement at the ongoing conference, where at least 14 SADC member health ministers are convened, SADC members said that there was need to discuss and harmonise a coordinated regional preparedness response towards the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 has been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organisation on January 2020, with potential significant impact.

“As such, the need to share existing knowledge and information on this disease as it had devastating global impact since its outbreak in December 2019,” read the statement.

In line with that, SADC recommended temporary suspension of SADC regional face-to-face meetings.

“The meeting recommended a temporary suspension of SADC regional face-to-face meetings and encourage utilization of Modern Technology such as video-conferences, Webinars and Skype Calls for holding meetings was encouraged until such a time when the situation had been contained,” it said.

This development comes a month before Zimbabwe host its usual trade showcase, the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) in Bulawayo which had already attracted 345 exhibitors with at least seven foreign countries namely Belarus, Botswana, Japan, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania confirming their participation.

This temporary suspension of meetings was recommended to be monitored by the Chairperson of Council, supported by the SADC Secretariat.

The meeting also urged member states to put in place National Preparedness and Response Plans as well as contingency and emergency funds to address gaps in prevention, impact mitigation and other interventions.

The member states agreed to institute Peer Review Mechanisms to validate self-assessment reports on readiness, and agreed that to establish coherent mechanisms of sharing information on issues of transboundary public health concern.

“The meeting directed the revived Committee to work in partnership with Disaster Management and other relevant structures at Member State and regional levels, and other sectors in government (Immigration, Tourism, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Trade); Africa CDC; Development Partners; Private Sector; and Civil society in line with the expanded Terms of Reference.”

SADC Member States were then urged to utilize the SADC Pooled Procurement Services through Medical Stores Department (MSD) for the procurement of medicines and supplies.

Speaking on the side-lines of this emergency meeting, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Obediah Moyo said that the potential spread of the disease in the region would pose a social, economic and security threat.

“The meeting therefore set to harmonise services within the region so that we would be fully prepared as a region; especially training of personnel and strengthening our surveillance systems,” he said.

The Africa Centre for Disease Control has since established an African taskforce for coronavirus, a continental platform to help countries coordinate their efforts across the continent.

This meeting is being held at the back of seven cases of confirmed coronavirus in South Africa and at least 80 confirmed cases from nine African countries.