Econet Founder and pan-African businessman and philanthropist Strive Masiyiwa, who is the African Union Special Envoy for COVID-19, retraces how he got involved in the fight against the deadly virus just before the outbreak of the pandemic
In February 2020, a month after the pandemic began to spread globally, I travelled to Abu Dhabi to attend an international conference hosted by the Milken Institute.
This is a conference for investors and global entrepreneurs. I got to spend time with some friends like Aliko Dangote and Patrice Motsepe.
At such meetings there are usually presentations by field experts, and as you would expect, there were leading experts on viruses and other medical fields.
I listened very carefully, and with increasing alarm!
“How bad is it going to get?” I kept asking the experts.
“Really, really bad. We have not seen anything like this in 100 years,” someone explained, as they took us through some deep science on how viruses work.
When I returned to London, I called Michael Milken.
Ever since he survived cancer decades ago, he has dedicated his life to financing leading edge medical research.
His medical foundation is actually headed by a Nigerian-American, who is considered one of the leading medical researchers in the world. They invited me to travel and listen to their own experts.
I flew to LA just to meet these guys.
When I got back to London, I knew it was time to act: Better be safe than sorry!
Persuading my adult children, many of whom live around the world, to drop what they were doing, was tough. But they listened, and began lockdowns.
Meanwhile, I focused on getting senior executives of our companies to realize the seriousness of what was coming.
“There will be major disruptions around the world. People will die. Economies will be crippled.”
We hired our own medical experts.
In one country we even set up our own medical facility called Project Noah, for staff who might need treatment.
We looked for oxygen and stocked our own supplies.
We bought oxygen concentrators and we began public awareness campaigns.
I joined a group of African business leaders that met every day to discuss the situation. This was March 2020!
By April, I was full time into fighting COVID-19, because I could not imagine that there was anything else more important that I could be doing.
In June 2020, I accepted the role of Special Envoy for the whole (African) continent.
The first thing we did was to set up the Africa Medical Supplies Platform — www.AMSP.Africa.
The platform helps countries buy urgently needed material, including medicines, test kits, hospital equipment, etc.
This week we begin the first shipments of the more than 400 million vaccine doses that Africa will receive through the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Trust—AVAT, which I helped set up.
We anticipate and respond to evil, with knowledge and action.”ma