COVID19 Action Fund for Africa: radical collaboration at its best

English Sall, Lyudmila Nepomnyashchiy (CHAP)

In late September, the African Philanthropy Forum’s Executive Director, Mosun Layode, elevated the story about the powerful partnership of more than 30 organizations joined in collaborative action to protect the health of millions of Africans.

Responding to an emergency requires an all-hands-on-deck approach: individuals and institutions set aside differences and work together to solve a shared problem. When COVID-19 unfurled across the world in March 2020, the alarm among community health advocates was the reduction in essential services for mothers, newborns and children in the world’s most vulnerable communities. This was a striking learning from the Ebola outbreak when measles claimed more than twice as many lives as ebola in DRC. Personal protective equipment (PPE) was in short supply as the world competed for access. 

Community health workers (CHWs), who are often the first point of care for many vulnerable communities in hard-to-reach parts of the world were not prioritized: they were not included comprehensively in global forecasting models and global guidelines were not in place to advise on what PPE they needed to continue care. Therefore, no one knew what or how much PPE they needed to continue care.

The Community Health Acceleration Partnership (CHAP), a venture philanthropy initiative focused on community health, worked with the Community Health Impact Coalition (CHIC) to scope and quantify PPE needs across twenty four sub-Saharan African countries known to rely on CHWs for essential care. CHAP and CHIC then joined forces with over a dozen partners including Direct Relief, Pandemic Action Network and VillageReach to launch the COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa, the largest philanthropic effort focused specifically on donating essential PPE to community health workers. 

Four months later, 12 out of 24 countries have PPE to protect over 200,000 CHWs for 6 months. We’re working with each of these countries to ensure PPE for CHWs is prioritized in domestic and external resource mobilization efforts. In the meantime, over half a dozen philanthropic sources are filling this urgent unmet need and the Fund team is operating on leverage: a multi-million dollar in-kind contribution from the World Food Programme to distribute PPE from China to the countries, existing in-country partner capacity to move goods from the port-of-entry to the last mile and support from approximately 30 partners and Ministry of Health colleagues who are championing this critical cause with their funders and in-country partners. All Fund operations are provided in-kind or through philanthropic capital. The Fund operational team communicates regularly with other partners who may be pursuing similar work to reduce risk of duplication including the Africa CDC and the Africa Medical Supplies Platform. 

What makes this radical? None of the core operating partners have ever worked together. There is a tremendous level of trust based on each partner’s core competency and belief in the venture’s mission. Partners who may traditionally be seen as competitors are coming together to share information that can maximize the number of protected CHWs: donor outreach, communication tactics and constructive feedback. The success of this collaboration was recently recognized with the Grand Prize at the 2020 Global Health Supply Chain Summit

Philanthropic investments have catalytic impact when the need is urgent and unmet, when the opportunity is targeted, the team trust-worthy and there is leverage. The COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa represents these attributes and more.  The same CHWs protected by this venture will be relied upon to support COVID-19 contact tracing, diagnostic and vaccine deployments. 

We encourage others to join this catalytic partnership! Please visit for more info.

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