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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has revealed how strikingly unprepared the world is for a pandemic and how easily viruses spread in our interconnected world. A governance crisis is unfolding alongside the pandemic as health officials around the world compete for access to scarce medical supplies. As governments of African countries, and those in low-income and middle-income countries around the world, seek to avoid potentially catastrophic epidemics and learn from what has worked in other countries, testing and other medical resources are of concern. With accelerating spread, funding is urgently needed. Yet even where there is enough money, many African health authorities are unable to obtain the supplies needed as geopolitically powerful countries mobilise economic, political, and strategic power to procure stocks for their populations.

We have seen this before. In the AIDS pandemic lifesaving diagnostics and drugs came to many African countries long after they were available in Europe and North America. In 2020, this situation can be avoided. Although health system weakness remains acute in many places, investments by national governments, the African Union, and international initiatives to tackle AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, polio, and post-Ebola global health security have built important public health capacities. Global leaders have an ethical obligation to avoid needless loss of life due to the foreseeable prospect of slow and inadequate access to supplies in Africa.

Publication Citation

The Lancet, Vol. 395, Issue 10238, Pp. 1735-1738.