Heads of States of member countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) on Monday agreed to formulate a strategy to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
The leaders held a virtual summit as the numbers of those infected continued to increase.
Present were presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Ismail Omar Guelleh (Djibouti), Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Somalia) and Abdalla Hamdok (Sudan), with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali (Ethiopia), and South Sudan's First Vice President Riek Machar representing President Salva Kiir.
The number of those infected in the eight Igad countries was 168 by Thursday, from about 90 at the end of last week, with thousands more in mandatory quarantine.
With the already stretched poor health systems, the infection curve is projected to rise sharply in the next few weeks.
Uganda is already in lockdown, and Kenya has imposed a 7pm to 5am curfew in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
“The meeting resolved to collectively formulate a comprehensive regional response strategy, and an accompanying implementation plan to address the Covid-19 pandemic in the Igad region, that also incorporates the protection of populations and special groups that face difficulties accessing the national health systems such as Internally Displaced People (IDPs), refugees and migrants,” reads a section of the joint communiqué.
The leaders also agreed to establish an Igad emergency fund for the control and prevention of pandemic diseases, and expedite the adoption of a co-ordinated, whole-of-government approach to responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The meeting resolved to strengthen the Igad regional mechanism for responding to the outbreak of pandemic diseases through increased capacitation of the regional disease surveillance, early warning and response system.”
The resolutions include mobilising medical professionals and support from the Igad community in the diaspora and facilitation of an enabling environment for strengthening national public health systems. The leaders also agreed to share more information, including tracking of infected persons.
In his address to fellow leaders President Museveni said that as they plan measures to combat the spread, they should also ensure food and industrial production are not tampered with.
He asked that mechanisms be put in place to ensure movement of cargo across the region to continue, albeit under standard operating procedures.
The Heads of States agreed to direct their relevant agencies to enhance co-operation in border control and management, to ensure safety along common borders and guarantee movement of cargo.