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Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf discusses strengthening equity in Africa and around the world after COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that much more needs to be done to not only strengthen global health infrastructure, but to address social inequities—many of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently said.

Madam Sirleaf, who is Co-Chair of the Independent Panel for Preparedness and Response, joined fellow world leaders for a World Economic Forum panel discussion on ‘Strengthening Global Equity and Travel’ in post-COVID-19 economies. As some countries open their borders and look towards economic recovery, Madam Sirleaf stressed that it was now crucial to translate lessons learned from the pandemic into action.  

Going forward, global leaders must consider how to “reset the entire global institutional architecture… reforms to the World Health Organization to make it more effective in carrying out its mandate,” Madam Sirleaf said. She shared some of the Independent Panel’s recommendations, which include establishing a high-level Global Health Threats Council, increasing international financing of the WHO, and facilitating an equitable global platform for the delivery of public goods such as vaccines.

Madam Sirleaf also highlighted that Africa in particular was at a critical turning point, and urged international leaders to act now to help ensure that the continent’s young population did not lose out on future opportunities as a result of the pandemic’s detrimental impact on the economy. “ young, technical people that have creativity and ingenuity are trying their best to gain knowledge, trying to access digitization, to make themselves more competitive,” Madam Sirleaf said. However, lack of opportunity—an issue which has worsened due to businesses shutting down during the pandemic—means that some will not be able to escape poverty. Through greater investment in Africa’s private sector industries, more jobs could be created for young entrepreneurs, giving them “access to private capital to participate in the value and trade chain” and experience upward mobility.  

Of course, African leaders must also shoulder the responsibility when it comes to effectively harnessing the continent’s young population to drive recovery, Madam Sirleaf said. She encouraged them to “formulate policies that ensure the full participation” of more young people, and “promote activities that will lead us to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

You can watch the full panel discussion here.

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