COVID in Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa Region: An Update

June 03, 2020

Columbia Global Centers Tunis organized a webinar, in partnership with  ICAP, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, on the topic of North African reactions to COVID-19. Our speakers were: Rana A. Hajjeh, M.D., EMRO Director, WHO, Egypt; Gerardo Noto, Resident Representative of UNDP, Libya; and Hechmi Louzir, Director General of Institut Pasteur, Tunisia. The webinar was introduced by Youssef Cherif, Deputy Director, Columbia Global Centers | Tunis and moderated by Wafa El-Sadr, Global Director, ICAP at Columbia University.

The discussion tackled the situation of COVID-19 in North Africa and how countries have been confronting it. Rana A. Hajjeh started the conversation with a general scoop of the current situation on the regional level and the latest updates with the amplifying events and settings. She also highlighted the WHO overall strategy on a regional level and the response pillars along with key areas of WHO/EMRO support to country offices from planning and coordination to technical support and knowledge management in the pursuit of controlling and limiting the spread of the Virus. She also noted that for the MENA region, outbreaks were limited outside Iran, which is in the top 10 of number of cases. Dr. Hajjeh also talked about the rate of the spread of the virus among health care workers. One of the points she highlighted was the impact of COVID-19 on health workers from an increased workload, leading to shortages, fatigue, psychological stress, and violence stigma against them. Main challenges in the region were also highlighted and discussed and this included testing capacities, availability of PPE and Lab supplies, divided governments, and politicization of responses. 

Hechmi Louzir followed by covering the latest updates of COVID-19 in Tunisia and the tests used. He also talked about the strategy adopted by the government against the pandemic. Dr. Louzir mentioned multiple reasons behind the success of the country in the battle against COVID-19. These facts included the fact that the Tunisian health system is one of the most developed in the region, the relatively young population, the anticipation with crisis management, etc.

Our third speaker, Gerardo Noto, talked about the UN integrated approach in response to COVID-19 in Libya. He mentioned that the UN worked on the humanitarian response, the social-economic response which looks into the immediate impact of the pandemic. Resident Representative Noto also discussed the multiple dimensions of the pandemic, saying that the testing capacity is very limited which explains the low numbers registered, assuming a higher number of the infected population in Libya. The lack of healthcare resources capacity and human resources is one of many challenges faced in Libya. 

The webinar ended with an interactive Q&A session.