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Research informs West Africa’s policies for responding to future pandemics

 
In West Africa, as in other parts of the world, COVID-19 brought unprecedented challenges to lives and livelihoods, subjecting various vulnerable groups to diverse collateral effects of pandemic-response measures. This phenomenon gave rise to the need for research that contributes to a better understanding of the effects of COVID-19, and pandemics more generally, on vulnerable populations. 
An image of a group of men and women who attended the RECOVER validation workshop in Accra, Ghana, in January 2024.
Attendees at the RECOVER validation workshop held in Accra, Ghana, in January 2024.

Rectifying the effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations in West Africa: a research-action (RECOVER) is one such research effort. It is funded by IDRC with the objective of contributing to and facilitating the development of evidence-informed strategies that strengthen cross-sectoral linkages to deal with the effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations.  

The RECOVER project is implemented by the West African Network of Emerging Leaders in Health Policy and Systems, a leading network in health policy and systems research. Its implementation showed that increased unemployment, interference in educational structures, growth in mental-health disorders and high inflation all worsened the vulnerability of socially and economically disadvantaged groups. At the same time, the findings showed that different response strategies adopted to respond to COVID-19 led to good practices such as multi-sectoral collaboration, a positive change in people’s behaviour and increased research capacities and funding.  

In addition, findings showed that the existence of factors such as weak health systems and structures for care delivery, infodemia (excessive, incorrect or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak), low skill levels among staff members, lack of proper orientation of health personnel on pandemic management, poor coordination and management of pandemic funds, and inadequate implementation of control strategies exposed the West African sub-region to serious repercussions during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

A RECOVER workshop, held in Accra from January 18-19, 2024, offered an ideal opportunity for researchers, policymakers and program implementers to deliberate and validate these findings, and to advance a people-centred, multisectoral policy framework that would mitigate the collateral effects that arise from pandemics in West Africa.  

In her opening remarks, Francine Sinzinkayo, a senior program specialist from IDRC’s Global Health program and the project officer for RECOVER, emphasized the importance of coherence and alignment for a successful pandemic response. She noted that “the workshop is an opportunity for us to learn from each other and to create collaborative networks to strengthen various systems and policies so that they are adequate and resilient to future health, climate and other crises.”   

In a speech read on his behalf, Dr. Virgil Lokossou, executive director of regional surveillance and disease control at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of RECOVER, added that “RECOVER has emerged as a beacon of hope and is a testimony to our determination to remedy the effects of this pandemic on those who have been disproportionately affected. And this initiative embodies the spirit of solidarity and collaboration that lies at the heart of the very mission of our ECOWAS region. So, the project's focus on vulnerable populations is not just a strategic decision, it is a moral imperative.”  

This people-centred, multisectoral policy framework, which will be considered for adoption by 15 West African countries, is expected to ensure more consolidated, transformative and comprehensive responses to future pandemics across the sub-region.