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15/04/2020

The Necessity of Strong State Response to COVID-19

Managing and recovering from the COVID-19 crisis will demand a strong state response in developing countries – as it will in rich nations. There is also a need to balance urgent healthcare and macroeconomic responses with planning for longer-term resilience across the spectrum of Sustainable Development Goals. 

Covid-19 State Response

The crisis remains in its initial stages but the response needs to quickly focus holistically across healthcare, economic stabilisation, education, water and sanitation, PFM, social safety nets, energy provision, and so on.

Governments will hugely benefit from development assistance in planning and coordinating their responses, offering an entry point for DFID, the FCO and other donor agencies. This note focuses on the immediate steps that should be taken by the centre of government in developing countries in order to set up Covid-19 response infrastructure and to manage the response effectively. Countries from Nigeria to Pakistan are setting up this infrastructure. Some governments have existing emergency response units with proven capacity. Others are setting up units specially dedicated to Covid-19.

Centre of government response capacity does not, however, mean the centralisation of response. To be effective the centre of government will need to coordinate effectively with – and rely on the networks and services of – line ministries, local government, the private sector, NGOs and communities. This bears particular emphasis when it comes to changing people’s behaviours during the crisis.

Leadership and political backing are vital quantities. Heads of state should establish the coordination and response structures that will enable decisions to be well-informed and rapidly implemented. Backing by heads of state will lend convening power and facilitate essential cross-government coordination. By contrast line ministries (like ministries of health) will struggle to coordinate across government. Central units will also benefit from the selection of high capacity staff.

In making decisions small, regular meetings with key officials and advisers in cabinet and civil service are preferable to larger groups. Where donors are making significant contributions to the response, it can be advantageous for the heads of donor agencies to attend these meetings.

The core functions of Covid-19 response units, broadly, should be:

  • To collate and analyse data on Covid-19’s impacts and the response;
  • To plan the response, supporting the leadership to take evidence-based decisions;
  • To bolster first line infrastructure, in partnership with private sector, NGOs and communities, including via logistics and procurement;
  • To engage and galvanise national stakeholders around the governments’ strategy;
  • To articulate key sector priorities, develop targets for these key priorities, and allocate clear responsibilities;
  • To take stock and assess progress, daily to begin with;
  • To coordinate donor support;
  • To effectively communicate to the public on priorities and delivery progress in partnership with communities.

These are the lessons Adam Smith International has gained from the experience of working with HMG and other bilateral and multilateral donors on centre of government support and emergency response mechanisms, notably in Sierra Leone post-Ebola and through the President’s Delivery Team; in Libya on a transitional funding mechanism following the collapse of the Gaddafi regime; in Iraq on emergency fiscal management post-Saddam Hussein; in Syria through the Stabilisation Response Mechanism; in Mali through Support to Stabilisation in Central Mali; and in Kenya and Zimbabwe after complex elections and changes in government.

Nick Haslam, Head of Programme Partnerships & Ally Arnall, Head of People & Talent

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