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Africa’s Human-Capital Imperative

Even though African governments were put on notice by the not-so-distant outbreaks of Ebola, most still have not made health and other human-capital investments central to their economic strategies. Until this changes, all of the continent's other aspirations will remain out of reach.

LOME – In 2014, the African Union’s “Cost of Hunger” study alerted African ministers of finance and planning to an underappreciated economic headwind that was gaining strength and threatening to stall their development plans. Yet even as the silent hunger pandemic and the current COVID-19 pandemic erode Africa’s human capital, policymakers and political leaders still have not put health at the center of their recovery plans.

Chronic malnutrition and COVID-19 present the same challenge at different scales. The coronavirus suspended the prevailing economic model and reminded us that capital ultimately depends on the health of the laborers who expand and mobilize resources. Likewise, hunger undercuts productivity by eroding human capital over time.

In countries where health is recognized as an enabler of economic transformation, these issues are not siloed off in the health ministry. From the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to COVID-19, we now have a clear understanding of how domestic resources can be mobilized to address public-health emergencies. In the United States and other advanced economies, the government has tapped into the country’s wealth to support large-scale social policies like household stimulus checks and wage support schemes. But countries need not be rich: In Togo, the government’s Novissi initiative has extended support to informal workers.

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