The COVID-19 epidemic is affecting the whole world. This global health crisis requires a comprehensive, multilateral and coordinated response as well as specific assistance for the most vulnerable countries.
As the world’s fifth-largest donor*, France has mobilized significant resources of €1.2 billion to fight the spread of COVID-19 in the most vulnerable countries, most of which are in Africa. France is increasing its contributions and commitment to multilateral bodies fighting the pandemic: the UN and its specialized agencies and programmes, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) as well as the relevant multilateral funds such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, or Unitaid.
France is also advocating within various multilateral and regional forums (G7, G20, European Union), in full cooperation with the African Union, to ensure Africa’s specific needs are taken into account, particularly through easier access to healthcare products stemming from research on the virus (tests, treatments and future vaccines).
France was behind the international initiative to address the impact of COVID-19 in Africa, launched on 15 April 2020 following the appeal from 18 African and European Heads of State and Government, including President Macron. This initiative has four pillars: support for African healthcare systems, support for African research, humanitarian support and economic support.
To tackle this pandemic, France has developed a four-pronged strategy, implemented with bilateral and multilateral financing.
Increasing the capability of States and communities to tackle the epidemic is a priority. The goal is to help countries with fragile healthcare systems and to support them until treatments and vaccines are available. This will mainly involve mobilizing short-term financing to support the work of the World Health Organization. The WHO is playing a key role in international coordination as well as a standard-setting role in healthcare. France is also acting through its support for multilateral agencies and funds (Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Unitaid and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance), as well as many associations and NGOs.
Research assistance: support for scientific cooperation in the areas of epidemiology, medical research and social sciences.
France’s objective is to support scientific collaboration between French and African institutions by strengthening existing partnerships, and to allocate more research resources to Africa. This is particularly relevant to the work being carried out by the networks of the Institut Pasteur, the Research Institute for Development (IRD) and the French Agency for Research on AIDS and Viral Hepatitis (ANRS), alongside universities and research bodies. The projects seek to gain a greater understanding about the drivers of the epidemic (zoonoses), developing diagnostics, cures and vaccines and analysing social phenomena linked to the pandemic in order to advise public decision-making. On 24 April 2020, alongside the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the WHO, France launched the “ACT Accelerator”, a global initiative to speed up the development and production of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, and ensure safe, equitable and universal access to them.
The pandemic particularly affects the most vulnerable populations. Access to food and primary care is a priority. Particular attention is given to women via greater support for primary care in the areas of sexual, reproductive, maternal and child health.
Since movement of people and goods has been drastically reduced due to the pandemic, France is working on the ground to access remote areas, with its diplomatic and cooperation network as well as through international agencies, particularly the World Food Programme.
The goal is to support African economies using instruments deployed by international institutions, particularly the IMF and the World Bank. The assistance provided comes in two forms:
- financial, by increasing the special drawing rights for African countries,
- budgetary, by setting up a moratorium on debt and prospects for debt cancellation, in line with President Macron’s appeal.
French companies established in Africa are also helping fight the pandemic.
France has pledged to increase its official development assistance by 2022 to 0.55% of its gross national income. In order to tailor this assistance to the challenges and the urgency of the pandemic, it has chosen to redirect part of it to projects aimed at fighting the spread of COVID-19 in the most vulnerable countries.
In total, €1.2 billion in bilateral loans and grants are involved, a majority intended for sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, other tools are being redeployed to fight COVID-19 in Africa by the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MESRI), the Ministry for Solidarity and Health (MSS) and the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE), particularly via its Crisis and Support Centre.
According to their areas of activity, the projects are managed by:
- the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and Expertise France, for projects more focused on the health response, capacity building for epidemiological monitoring and financing national COVID-19 response plans;
- research networks supported by France, such as French public laboratories set up in Africa (French Research Institute for Development – IRD, French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development – CIRAD and French Agency for Research on AIDS and Viral Hepatitis – ANRS) or France (French National Institute of Health and Medical Research – INSERM, French National Centre for Scientific Research – CNRS, universities).
These networks work in collaboration with African research institutes, including the network of Pasteur Institutes in Africa, as well as local hospitals.
The Pasteur Institute in Paris – a private foundation with recognized public interest missions, which receives a government subsidy and grants – has invested almost €3 million to support the capabilities of the research network in Africa and for joint projects. It finances about a dozen French scientists in Africa to the amount of €2.5 million. Along with the Mérieux Foundation, it is also working on several actions to fight the pandemic. Extraordinary financing of €4 million was granted by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the AFD for the network of Pasteur Institutes in Africa in order to step up research to approve quick, tailored, cost-price diagnostic tests (including serology and training laboratory staff).
The IRD, which will receive support of €2 million, CIRAD and the ANRS are also contributing to this work via joint scientific projects, particularly as part of a “One Health” approach and by releasing dedicated funds. The ANRS has thus allocated €4 million as part of a call for projects in collaboration with laboratories.
For its part, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE) is providing financing directly or via NGOs to food assistance programmes, in liaison with the World Food Programme (WFP).
Through the Solidarity Fund for Innovative Projects (FSPI), French embassies in Africa are financing health training and research projects (up to €1.4 million in 2020). For example, as part of these FSPI, the Ministry is financing positions for healthcare technical assistants and researchers at African Pasteur Institutes and the ANRS, and is granting extraordinary subsidies to support local initiatives.
Mainly via NGOs, the Ministry is implementing emergency humanitarian projects in priority countries as regards French assistance and in the hardest-hit countries. These projects involve increasing the capacity of healthcare structures and activities to prevent and monitor infections, or to help slow the spread of the virus (e.g. water, sanitation, protecting vulnerable populations). France was at the forefront of the European initiative to set up a humanitarian bridge, to facilitate humanitarian access which has been reduced by the current crisis, and France organized the first flight under this mechanism, which was to Bangui.
Within the European Union (EU)
France advocated strongly for Africa to be viewed as a priority continent in the EU-funded emergency response for developing countries. As a result, of the €15.6 billion in emergency assistance announced by the EU on 8 April 2020 to fight the pandemic, €3.6 billion was allocated to sub-Saharan African.
The EU response to the health crisis is financed by external assistance instruments, mainly the European Development Fund, which is largely dedicated to Africa, and to which France has contributed €5.4 billion for the 2014-2020 period, and the European Investment Bank.
A specific call from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) received a budget of €4.75 million, including €1 million from France, to support the development of research capacities in Africa to address the crisis.
Within the G20
On the initiative of France, the G20 countries decided to take action regarding the debt of 77 of the most vulnerable countries, 41 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, the Paris Club creditors and emerging creditors together decided to suspend debt principal repayments and interest payments from 1 May to 31 December 2020. This suspension is a major gesture from France, worth €1 billion.
This much-needed shot in the arm – worth about $20 billion (€18.4 billion) – for 40  countries must enable them to invest more in combating COVID-19. (Jean-Yves Le Drian, Le Monde, 20 April 2020)
In addition to the moratorium, France is advocating debt restructuring in the most vulnerable countries, particularly in Africa.
We must help our neighbours in Africa to fight the virus more effectively, and help them economically by massively cancelling their debts. (Emmanuel Macron, 13 April 2020)
Support for multilateral funds and bodies
France is among the leading donors to major multilateral instruments in the area of healthcare, including the Global Fund, Gavi and Unitaid. These instruments have reoriented part of their programmes to fighting COVID-19, providing $144 million, and will continue their efforts.
The World Health Organization
France is the sixth-largest contributor to the WHO budget (about €20 million per year), and plays a major role, including in coordinating the international response to the pandemic.
The International Development Association (IDA)
France is the fifth-largest contributor to the International Development Association (IDA), with €1.4 billion pledged for the 2021-2023 period. This arm of the World Bank dedicated to the Least Developed Countries is now fully mobilized within the framework of the COVID-19 emergency response facility, with $14 billion, as well as the medium-term economic support plan of $160 billion.
*In 2019, France dedicated close to 11 billion euros to development assistance.
(Mise à jour : 5 mai 2020)