COVID-19 Response in Benin: Lessons Learnt From Control Measures Taken

Background

From cholera to the Black Death to the Spanish Flu, these pandemics have shaken entire continents on more than one occasion[1]. Like these epidemics, Coronavirus burst onto the scene in 2019, killing more than 3.9 million people worldwide as of June 2021 (OurWorldInData.org)[2], straining government finances, the health system ultimately establishing the health system new social paradigms on a global scale. This new Coronavirus [3] appeared in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, China, in December 2019 and was later named COVID-19 and confirmed as a pandemic in March 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO)[3].

Neither the developed countries nor the so-called low-income countries were prepared enough to confront this infection, so each Government defined its response strategy and took the most effective decisions to avert the health crisis and protect its population from the economic and health crisis. From one country to another, the measures taken to respond to the crisis depended on the extent of the shock.

In this context, Benin – a West African country located in the tropics – has more than 11 million people, a GDP of 14.391 billion dollars in 2019, and economic growth of 6.9% in 2018[4], was hit by the Coronavirus pandemic. Taking the right view of the situation, the Government of Benin opted for strong response measures in the early hours of the pandemic to limit its spread.

With the adoption of a strategic purchasing approach, COVID-19 measures should be taken to ensure equity in the sharing of risk and resources allocation. Purchasing is strategic when it transforms budgets and funds into benefits to distribute resources more equitably and realize gains in efficiency[5]. However, we are uncertain of the equity in sharing risk and mobilized resources in Benin’s approach to managing the pandemic. This blog takes you on a journey to explore and analyze equity in risk-sharing and resource allocation, through first preventive measures, then curative measures, and finally resilience measures are taken to prevent the spread of, and cope with, the COVID-19 pandemic in Benin.

Preventive Measures Against COVID 19 in Benin

The first action of the Benin government against the spread of COVID 19 was to establish basic preventive measures, such as the systematic wearing of masks, hand washing with soap and/or disinfection of hands with gel/alcoholic solution and social distancing of at least one meter between people. In addition to these basic preventive rules, additional measures taken by the Government are summarized chronologically in the table below:

Table 1: Measures Against COVID 19 in Benin

MeasuresDate
Limit entry and exit at Benin’s land borders. Only essential crossings are authorized in liaison with the authorities of neighbouring countries. Measures were taken to strengthen controls and systematically quarantine any suspected persons or those who tried to circumvent the system.March 17, 2020
Restrict issuance of entry visas into BeninMarch 17, 2020
Systematic and mandatory quarantine of all persons arriving in Benin by air. As a result, the Government requisitioned a thousand hotel rooms for this purpose. The cost of quarantine for nationals is covered by the State, while non-nationals cover the cost themselves.March 17, 2020
Suspend all missions outside the country for government members and senior public administration officials, except in absolute emergencies. The private sector was requested to observe the same caution.March 17, 2020
Suspend preparations for the pilgrimage to Mecca in line with the arrangements made by the Saudi authorities.March  17, 2020
Recommend mourners to keep funeral attendance at a strict minimum and to postpone subsequent ceremonies/events.March 17 2020
Obligation for banks, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, shops, and other establishments receiving the public to provide protection and hygiene measures and ensure that customers and users respect social distancing requirements.March 17, 2020
Chloroquine 250 mg tablets will be purchased at 40 CFA francs from Centrale d’Achat des Médicaments Essentiels et des Consommables médicaux (CAME) and sold on medical prescription at 50 CFA francs, i.e. 500 CFA francs per pack.March 20, 2020
Suspend all demonstrations and other non-essential sporting, cultural, religious, political, and festive events.March 22, 2020
A health cordon “cordon sanitaire” was established around Cotonou, Abomey-Calavi, Allada, Ouidah, Sèmè-Podji, Porto-Novo, So-Ava, Aguégués, Akpro-Missérété and Adjarra in order to isolate them from the rest of the country.March 23, 2020
Prohibit groups of more than ten (10) people in any place except for commercial spaces, with the obligation to respect social distancing requirements;March 27, 2020
Prohibit buses and minibuses from public transport Limit passengers on motorcycle cabs to one person at a time Limit passengers on cabs and boats to a maximum of threeMarch 27, 2020
 Closure of bars, discotheques and other places of entertainmentApril 01, 2020
Avail protective masks to the population in the health cordon at the subsidized price of 200 CFA francs. Later these masks were made available for all citizens.  April 01, 2020
Closure of daycare centers for one monthApril 10, 2020
Removal of the cordon sanitaireMay 11, 2020
A 24/7 toll-free number for communication and assistance on COVID-19April 24, 2020
Places of worship are authorized to reopen to receive the faithful but observing COVID 19 measures May 27, 2020
Resume public transport, reopen bars, respecting the official barriers and COVID-19 measuresJune 2, 202
It is obligatory for public transport operators to equip their employees and passengers with appropriate masks and respect social distance requirements.July 8, 2020
Systematic screening of travellers arriving at and departing from Cotonou airport.September 1, 2020

Source: Constructed by authors, based on information from the Benin Government official websites.

End-to-end analysis of these measures shows that the Benin government progressively escalated measures as the pandemic evolved. In terms of equity, the measures taken exposed some segments of the population to greater risk than others. To illustrate, while some businesses continued without limitation, the hospitality industry, in particular, was forced to close for more than 2 months, severely impacting these businesses and their workers.

Vaccination as a preventive measure

Among the recent initiatives taken by the Government to control the spread of COVID19 is the vaccination campaign. With the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Benin ordered and received 144,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca/Oxford vaccine, licensed by the Serum Institute in India, via the COVAX mechanism on March 10 2021[6]. This delivery received by the Benin government through COVAX aims to support the Government’s efforts and ensure fair and equitable access to COVID 19 vaccination. Priority was given to 70,000 front-line health workers and the most vulnerable people, including people over 60 years of age and living with comorbidities such as diabetes, asthma, sickle cell disease, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. In total, these beneficiaries represent 20% of the target population. The Government identified 78 sites nationwide to roll out the first phase of vaccination. The strategy for deploying vaccines to the community in Benin followed the principle of equity, giving access to the most vulnerable in the population and then to those most at risk before the rest of the population – an effective strategy for allocating resources.

Curative Measures: Therapeutic Management of COVID 19 in Benin

Clear protocols were defined for the management of suspected and confirmed COVID 19 cases. Treatment was subsidized for all confirmed cases, including testing, treatment, and hospitalization. However, travellers were charged for testing. The treatment strategy was equitable as all who needed care were able to access it for free.

Resilience Measures as a Response to Socio-Economic Shocks in Benin 

The advent of COVID-19 has weakened all sectors of the economy, especially those directly exposed to the response measures taken to curb the spread of the virus. To mitigate the socio-economic shock, the Government took several mitigation measures by putting resources to support economic activity and the actors most affected by the health crisis. Below is a summary of this support based on information provided on the official government website[8].

  • Support of CFAF 63.38 billion for enterprises,
  • Support of CFAF 4.98 billion for artisans and small traders,
  • A general subsidy of CFAF 5.76 billion, for all citizens, for electricity and water bills.
  • CFAF 25 billion for the guarantee of loans to non-agricultural enterprises,
  • CFAF 10 billion for the refinancing of the decentralized financial systems,
  • CFAF 75 billion to facilitate access to credit by small-hold farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs from banks and decentralized financial systems,
  • CFAF 50 billion in direct refinancing credit, made available to the National Agricultural Development Fund to enable banks and financial institutions to finance farmers more easily,
  • Interest rate subsidies.

As we take stock, it is important to note that all segments of society have been affected in different ways by COVID-19 with regard to households in general due to the loss of jobs during the health crisis. Subsidies for water and electricity bills mitigated the household’s difficulty meeting ordinary expenses for rent, water, electricity, food, health, education, etc. Financial subsidies to enterprises and the financial sector mitigated the decline in productivity, decline in demand from households, the State and other economic actors, decline in turnover and an increase in the cost of raw materials. Support to the financial sector mitigated the reduction in savings and increase in loan defaulters. Further, these measures cushioned the financial institutions’’ risk as they increased access to credit to farmers and private enterprises. The measures taken by the Government ensured that no segment of the population was left out in the allocation of resources mobilized to manage the crisis.

Conclusion

This blog exposes the different strategies implemented by the Benin government in response to the COVID 19 pandemic between March 2020 and May 2021. The blog shows that although Benin was affected, as almost all the countries in the world, it was able to react promptly by putting adequate and sufficiently effective measures to slow down the spread of the virus and resilience mechanisms to mitigate the effect on households and enterprises. The blog also shows that along with these measures put in place, the Government applied equity and effectiveness in resource allocation. Benin has thus distinguished itself by the effectiveness of its social measures and its economic recovery plan during this health crisis.

Bibliography

[1] “COVID-19 vs. previous pandemics.” https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/comparing-covid-19-with-previous-pandemics#1918:-The-Spanish-flu (accessed June 01, 2021).
[2] “Cumulative confirmed COVID-19 deaths and cases, World.” https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/cumulative-deaths-and-cases-covid-19?country=~OWID_WRL (accessed June 27, 2021).
[3] “OMS | Pneumonie de cause inconnue – Chine.” https://www.who.int/csr/don/05-january-2020-pneumonia-of-unkown-cause-china/fr/ (accessed May 26, 2021).
[4] “Benin • Country facts • PopulationData.net.” https://en.populationdata.net/countries/benin/ (accessed May 26, 2021).
[5] World Health Organization, Governance for strategic purchasing: An analytical framework to guide a country assessment. 2019.
[6] “Plan national de déploiement et de vaccination pour la COVID-19 PROCESSUS DE SOUMISSION ET D’ÉVALUATION.”
[7] “POS Chimio COVID 19___Révision Jan 2021_validé_colchi.”
[8] “Compte rendu du Conseil des Ministres du 10 juin 2020 | Secrétariat général du Gouvernement du Bénin.” https://sgg.gouv.bj/cm/2020-06-10/ (accessed May 26, 2021)

COVID-19 Response in Benin: Lessons Learnt From Control Measures Taken

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