Nearly everyone has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the globe, straining health systems and people’s abilities to maintain their livelihoods. This global health crisis combines with the climate crisis to exacerbate existing inequalities that overwhelmingly affect vulnerable populations, such as women, youth, those living in poverty, and rural and indigenous communities.

On June 3, 2020, leaders in the fields of conservation, reproductive health, and gender equality convened to discuss the shared challenges and impacts arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the common areas of opportunity they are witnessing to harness this moment for positive change.

Panelists evoked the gravity as well as the opportunity of the challenges facing the development community in the face of COVID-19, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa. All panelists emphasized that COVID-19 has served to highlight existing development challenges, further highlighting the linkages between areas such as gender, livelihoods, human rights, and conservation, as well as the importance of multisectoral approaches to enhance resilience to such shocks. “COVID-19 has made it clear that humanity is dependent on nature, that interconnectedness of nature and life on earth infuses every part of our lives,” stated Kaddu Sebunya. Echoing a similar sentiment, Latanya Mapp Frett drew parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis in terms of their effect on existing and interrelated inequalities, stating, “we see an amazing amount of interconnectedness between climate and gender at every single level.”

While the direct public health impacts of the virus’s spread have been devastating, its secondary impacts on economic security, mobility, and safety affect the well-being of vulnerable communities. Jason Bremner presented data on household surveys from women in due to the pandemic, indicating: “It wasn’t as much about the lack of a method, but much more about lack of money to pay for a method or concern about safety,” preventing women from accessing essential reproductive health services during the pandemic. Similarly, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka pointed to the economic impact on communities living near national parks dependent on tourism, who found their major source of income devastated during the crisis. “One thing that has come out of the pandemic is the need to not just see tourism as the only financial incentive to conserve wildlife, because tourism comes and goes … there is a big need to find other livelihoods, and also to value conservation in other ways,” she states.

While the impacts of COVID-19 are severe and far-reaching, the panelists also highlighted the fact that the global pandemic presents an opportunity – and a call for action.

This webinar is part of the Africa Population, Environment, Development (PED) webinar series made possible through the USAID-funded PACE (Policy, Advocacy, and Communication Enhanced for Population and Reproductive Health) project. For regular updates about PED news, opportunities, resources, and other events, subscribe to the monthly Global PED updates newsletter online and follow @AfricaPHE on Twitter.