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Factsheet October 15, 2020

World Bank’s Response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Africa

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As Sub-Saharan African countries have managed to keep the virus under control with relatively low number of cases, the pandemic continues to take a toll on African lives and economies, pushing the region into its first recession in 25 years.

Many countries have seized the opportunity within the crisis to move faster on necessary reforms and investments that will be crucial for long-term development. However, concerns of a second wave are fueling further uncertainty. Recent estimates show that COVID-19 could push up to 40 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa into extreme poverty. The road to the recovery will be long and vary significantly across economies and sub-regions.  As part of the global response, the World Bank Group will be deploying up to $160 billion in financial support over 15 months to help more than 100 countries protect poor and vulnerable people, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery. This includes up to $50 billion for African countries.

In Africa, the World Bank’s response is focused around four main areas, simultaneously: saving lives, protecting poor people, protecting and creating jobs, and  building back better.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the World Bank has made available nearly $12 billion across Africa to help countries respond to the COVID-19 crisis through a combination of new operations in health, social protection, economic stimulus and other sectors, as well as redeployment of existing resources.

Save lives

The World Bank has taken fast action to help African countries strengthen their pandemic response and health care systems. As of October 15, the first set of emergency health projects in 34 African countries (amounting to a total of $757 million) have been launched and are focused on:

  • Strengthening prevention and limiting local transmission through improved surveillance systems and training of front-line responders;
  • Expanding testing and providing medical equipment such as gloves, masks, and portable ventilators;
  • Building or expanding healthcare facilities;
  • Building systems for real-time community-based tracing;
  • Scaling-up communications and messages to the communities on best practices;
  • Supporting vulnerable populations affected by COVID-19 through food and cash transfers; and
  • Strengthening coordination and collaboration by supporting regional institutions such as the Africa Center for Disease Control (Africa CDC) and the West African Health Organization (WAHO).


In addition, the World Bank is redeploying existing resources in the portfolio of health, urban and resilience projects including more than $316 million through the emergency components of existing projects (CERCs) in 16 countries. Additional resources (about $200 million) are being leveraged through project restructuring and existing health operations.

Regional operations have played a crucial role in the response, including  the existing Regional Disease Surveillance Systems Enhancement Program (REDISSE) to support 13 countries and WAHO with entry-point surveillance, reinforced laboratory testing capacity, infection prevention and control, essential medical equipment and materials, risk communication, and cross-border coordination. The Africa CDC is also receiving support to enhance cross-border collaboration on disease surveillance and response.

In the Seychelles, Kenya, and Madagascar, Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Operations (CAT DDOs) have been triggered disbursing $135 million. African countries have also learned the lessons from the Ebola epidemic in the areas of: community engagement; prioritizing water, sanitation and hygiene by installing networks of public handwashing sanitations; engaging the community in finding solutions to promote hand washing and social distancing, calling for volunteers to participate in medical response teams and providing comprehensive care even in difficult environments.

Protect poor people

To protect poor and vulnerable citizens and respond to the impact on their livelihoods, the Bank is helping African countries to:

  • Scale up and adapt social safety net programs: More than $2 billion new financing has been approved for social safety net programs across the continent to address chronic poverty through cash transfers and support those who lost their livelihoods following the pandemic. By putting cash into poor people’s pockets, social protection can help sustain local economic activities especially in essential sectors like food. In Togo, a coronavirus cash transfer program Novissi was introduced for a limited duration for those most impacted by the COVID-19 shock and with a larger benefit for women. In Niger, cash transfers helped build the resilience of households to climate change through diversifying income sources, encouraging savings and preventing poor coping decisions when shocks hit.

  • Ensure food security by supporting farmers to expand agricultural production to meet the needs of local communities and by sustaining food supply chains. For instance, in Côte d’Ivoire an allocation of $70 million for this COVID-19 response plan will provide income to 320,000 farmers and safeguard 5,000 jobs in local processing units. In Chad, cereal banks are being set up, and seeds and food kits are being distributed to help poor families not go hungry during the crisis. In Kenya, digital technologies are being used through the partnerships with 15 AgTech startups to facilitate the delivery of inputs, soil testing, crop insurance and other services. In Rwanda, about 38,000 farmer households are benefiting from the Sustainable Agricultural Intensification for Improved Livelihoods, Food Security, and Nutrition Project.

Protect and create jobs

Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSMEs) provide the bulk of jobs and are being particularly hit across the region where informal firms dominate employment. Public works and urban programs are also being launched or scaled up to facilitate job creation in low income communities. In the Central African Republic, the largest cash-for-work program in the country supported by the World Bank has  produced more than two million masks with the objective of producing 10 million to provide two free masks for every citizen, at the same time generating livelihood opportunities. In Ghana, the Greater Accra Resilient and Integrated Development Project will accelerate slum upgrading activities and help generate around 60,000 workdays. Similar projects are underway in Ethiopia, Kenya and Senegal. 

Putting women at the center of digital payment programs can help countries to mitigate exclusion risks and minimize the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls. In Zambia, a project is helping increase access to livelihood support for extremely poor women and access to secondary education for disadvantaged girls in extremely poor households. More than 34,000 women have been supported by the program so far. 
Support to the private sector is critical to containing the economic crisis and supporting recovery, so the World Bank Group’s private sector arm – the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – is working to help the private sector navigate the pandemic and recover from the economic and financial impact of the crisis. This includes mobilizing IFC’s global $8 billion fast track facility to support existing clients in the region affected by the outbreak. IFC is also providing advisory support to clients including financial institutions to manage risk during this period, to apparel manufacturers to help them transition to produce medical personal protective equipment (PPE), and to the tourism industry to find ways to navigate this difficult period. 

Build back better

While addressing the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus on recovery remains central to the Bank’s response and support to countries. More than 20 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have requested development policy operations or budget support from the Bank to assist them to manage the fiscal impacts of the pandemic. These operations are focusing on supporting governments to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the same time promoting reforms that will create the conditions for economic recovery. As of October 15, the World Bank has approved 20 Development Policy Operations in Sub-Saharan Africa for more than  $2.7 billion provided by the International Development Association (IDA),   

Securing the future also involves maintaining critical government services and service delivery, particularly in nutrition and education, as well as building health systems and water and sanitation. Energy services are also key in fighting pandemics - from powering healthcare facilities and supplying clean water for essential hygiene, to enabling communications and IT services that connect people while maintaining social distancing. Efforts to increase investments in solar, wind and other sustainable energy sources are underway and will be key to ensure economic recovery.

As global trade takes time to recover, African countries need to promote the development of regional value chains while they are building the foundations and capabilities needed for more comprehensive continental involvement. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has an important role to play by reducing production costs associated to tariffs, non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation problems. The AfCFTA can also help organize production across the region, expand intra-regional trade and build resilience along supply chains.  The World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) called on official bilateral creditors to grant a debt suspension to countries eligible for IDA financing – the world’s poorest countries – to help provide a buffer in their efforts  to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 2020 Spring Meetings, the governors of the World Bank and IMF and the Finance Ministers of the G7 and G20 supported a May 1 start date. This is an important part of the global response to soften the impact of COVID-19 on Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable people, and to ensure that governments have the resources to respond swiftly and decisively to protect lives and livelihoods. Africa paid $35.8 billion in total debt service in 2018, of which $9.4 billion was paid to official bilateral creditors.

As the social and economic impact of COVID-19 are still unfolding across the region, having real time data to inform policy choices is critical. The Bank is scaling up its high frequency monitoring of key economic indicators and impacts on firms, households, and food prices, to assist governments to monitor and respond effectively to the crisis.

Last Updated: Oct 15, 2020