okonjoiweala11_YASUYOSHI CHIBAAFP via Getty Images_kenyacoronavirus Yasuyoshi Chiba/APp via Getty Images

Africa Needs Debt Relief to Fight COVID-19

Combating COVID-19 is more challenging in Africa than in other parts of the world. But a two-year moratorium on all external-debt repayments would at least give governments there the fiscal space they need to respond to the pandemic.

WASHINGTON, DC – After a slow start, COVID-19 has spread increasingly rapidly throughout Africa, with more than 7,000 confirmed cases and 294 deaths across 45 countries and two territories as of April 7. Unless the continent urgently receives more assistance, the virus will continue to cut a deadly and remorseless path across it, with ever grimmer health and economic consequences. As an essential first step, therefore, we call for immediate debt relief for African countries in order to create the fiscal space governments need to respond to the pandemic.

After all, combating COVID-19 is more challenging in Africa than in other parts of the world. Access to quality health care across the continent remains limited, despite some countries’ recent progress. One-third of Africans cannot wash their hands regularly, because they lack access to clean water. Lack of refrigeration to store perishable foods or medicines makes it hard for most households to comply with stay-at-home orders. And many millions of workers’ livelihoods are in jeopardy because they have limited access to broadband connectivity, telework, or other opportunities to maintain basic incomes.

Nonetheless, African governments are responding to COVID-19 with determination, including by instituting states of emergency, requiring physical distancing, imposing forced quarantines, and restricting travel and public gatherings. And private-sector firms, civil-society groups, and grass-roots movements are joining the fight any way they can.

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