BENIN

Information last updated: 22 April, 2020

  • Total population: 11.5 M
  • Population +65 years old: 3%
  • GDP Per Capita: 3,238 USD
  • Informal employment: 95% (2011)
  • First registered case: 16 March
  • Hospital beds: .50 (per 1,000 people)

Status

  • Level of confinement: 
      • Closure of religious, cultural sites and events 
      • Sanitary cordon around 15 high risk cities (people beyond the cordon can move inside but not outside the cordon) until April 27, 2020.
      • Compulsory face masks within the Sanitary Cordon (recommended outside)
      • Mandatory 14-day quarantine for all inbound travelers in selected hotels 
      • School closures until 10 May.

Response set up and capacity

The strategic management of the crisis is led by the Office of the President, while the operational management is led by the Ministry of Health in coordination with other ministries. In terms of response to the Covid-19 crisis, the Government of Benin has, from an early stage, put in place national public health emergency management mechanisms composed by:

  1. An inter-ministerial committee chaired by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, the Ministry of Interior and Public Security and the Ministry of Infrastructures and transports, and other departments that can support the response (i.e. Education, Social Protection, Agriculture, and Environment).
  2. The existing National Health Crisis Committee, also chaired by the Minister of Health and including technical teams from various ministries as well as the Executive Secretary of the National Council for the fight against malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, hepatitis and epidemics (CNLS-TP) and partners in the health sectors.
Stakeholder Mapping

Entities / Organizations

• Office of the President
• Ministry of Health (including the CAME - Centrale d’Achat des Medicaments Essentiels)
• Ministry of Finance and EC
• Ministry of Interior and Public Security
• Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Prefectures, mayors and others decentralized entities

Additional actors

• World Bank (coordinating the response)
• UN Benin COVID-19 Task Force (Led by WHO and including other UN system organisations, namely UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP, WHO, UNAIDS, WFP, and FAO)
• GAVI
• World Bank
• Aid Cooperation agencies (AFD, EU, Germany)
• Civil society organizations of Benin

With regards to the healthy system, capacity in Benin is weak. The WHO’s Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Status (16 March 2020) classifies Benin in the category with a high risk of imported cases and at the Level 2 in terms of preparedness capacity (out of 5, 5 being the highest level of preparedness). Amongst others, the health system suffers from insufficient infrastructure, equipment and materials, financial hurdles to access health care, insufficient and insufficiently qualified human resources, scarcity of health workers in rural areas, lack of financing of the health system (5% of general budget in 2019, in comparison to 15% commitments in the Abuja Declaration) and lack of a robust surveillance system.

The public health system in Benin is characterized by 0.157 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants and 0.5 beds per 1,000 inhabitants (World Bank, 2016).

Mitigating factors - What is being done?

To prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic in Benin, government has set up some measures:  
  • March 18: several measures regarding border closures, quarantine, and travel restrictions have been put in place on March 18, or before. These include:
      • Limiting entry and exit at Benin land borders. Only essential crossings will be authorized in liaison with the authorities of neighboring countries. Measures to strengthen control will be applied for the systematic quarantine of any person suspected or attempting to circumvent the system.
      • Restriction on the issuance of entry visas to Benin.
      • Systematic and compulsory quarantine of all persons coming to Benin by air. Accordingly, the Government has decided to requisition 1,000 hotel rooms for this purpose. The costs of quarantine for nationals will be borne by the State, while non-nationals will bear these costs themselves.
      • Suspension of all missions outside the country for members of the Government and public administration officials, except in cases of absolute urgency. Private sector structures and individuals are invited to observe the same caution.
      • Suspension of all events and all other non-essential events of a sporting, cultural, religious, political and festive nature.
      • Suspension of preparations for the pilgrimage to Mecca in line with the arrangements made by the Saudi authorities.
      • Recommendation to mourners to keep the funerals of their dead to a strict minimum and to postpone subsequent events.
      • Recommendation to religious leaders to ensure that during worship services, a safe distance of at least one meter between worshippers is observed, and to avoid handshakes, hugs and other contaminating gestures.
      • Obligation for banks, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, businesses and other establishments receiving the public, to provide protective measures and hygiene, and to make customers and users observe the safe distance between them.
      • Provision by the State, for the benefit of pharmacies, supermarkets and other structures, of stocks of protective masks whose prices will be controlled to remain accessible to all citizens.
  • Mach 23Easter holidays for all public and private schools and universities are announced from  Monday March 30 to Monday April 13, 2020, now extended to May 10, 2020; additionally, a sanitary cordon is created for high risks cities (Cotonou, Abomey-Calavi, Allada, Ouidah, Tori-Bossito, Zè, Sèmè-Podji, Porto-Novo, Akpro-Missérété, Adjarra, Sô-Ava, Aguégués, Toffo, Kpomassè, Atchoupa commune of Avrankou).
  • March 25 – help desk is set up to receive calls call in case of emergency and inquiries in different local languages (24/7). 
  • March 30 – Government makes a call for financial and material donations to help fund public actions to combat Covid-19. 
  • April 1 – Government subsidizes the price of protective masks for population.
  • April 4: decision to maintain religious houses closed until 19th April 2020 is announced.
  • April 7: government announces that it is systematic and compulsory to wear protective masks in areas under the sanitary cordon; web page for solidarities initiatives from citizens, public and private actors to fight against COVID-19 is created.
  • April 11 – Allada hospital is transformed into a treatment and care center for Covid.
  • April 14 – closure of crèches and nurseries is announced until May 10. 

Risks, vulnerabilities, obstacles

In terms of the propagation of the Covid-19, there are only few official contamination recorded, often with very limited symptoms and a high recovery rate. The propagation of the Covid-19 is likely to be due to imported cases, but no thorough projections appear to be available at this stage.  

In short, the combination of porous borders, weak healthcare systems, large informal sector coupled with limited government capacity to respond to shocks (high debt, limited fiscal capacity, spoor social safety nets) make the Covid-19 a great challenge in Benin. 

Several weaknesses have been identified for an effective nation-wide response to Covid-19. First, a key weakness is the lack of capacity of the Benin public health system. Second, Benin is characterized by the high poverty rate of 45.4 per cent ($1.9 a day in purchasing power parity) and the large size of the informal sector (representing 65% of GDP and 90% of labour force) and trade most with Nigeria (the neighboring country). Most people do not have the financial capacity to buy 2 or 3 protective masks per day (despite the price set at $ 0.375 per unit). A large share of the population is highly dependent on daily income. Third, the government capacity to respond to shocks is weak given the low fiscal capacity (with a level of tax revenue to GDP of only 10.6%, Benin’s capacity to respond to the Covid-19 shock is one of the lowest in SSA). Closure of the border with Nigeria in August 2019 has had a negative impact on informal trade, but an even higher effect on customs revenue which dropped around 0.6 percentage points of GDP in the last quarter of 2019 alone.

For these reasons, the degree of severity of social distancing measures will determine to a large extent the social impact of Covid-19 in Benin: by reducing the disposable income of poor households. Against this backdrop, the Government of Benin has decided to reduce the movement of the population at risk but excluded the possibility to undergo a strict confinement (President Talon speech). This is mainly due to the fact that this would not be sustainable to the vast majority of the population, with extremely tough effects on the economy in the mid and long term. 

Expectations that Benin will be hard hit by Covid-19 spillovers, mainly through external channels: 

  • Lower commodity prices (notably cotton) 
  • Lower FDI and tighter global financing solutions

Although there is evidence of “fake news” dissemination,  dis- or mis-information does not appear to be a major issue in Benin and has not really impacted the public’s awareness of Covid-19. Benin has developed a wide-ranging awareness campaign through classical media, adapted to the context (several languages, radio, television, etc.). In addition, a call center (free telephone number) has been set up to provide key information to the public and number of infographics have been developed to explain the key measures to take against the Covid-19.

Potential actions and demands

After the first cases in Benin were confirmed, parents and organizations proposed to the government to close schools. But the government opposed this proposal in a note dated on 20th March 2020. The schools were finally closed on 30th March 2020 and will be open on 11th May 2020. Finally, the government decided on March 23th to isolate the cities with high risk from the cities with low risk which lead to creating a sanitary cordon on 30th March 2020. This decision is differently appreciated by the citizens. Some approved of this decision in view of the standard of living conditions of Beninese, but others expressed the wish that the government should implement the confinement despite the economic consequences for citizens in order to preserve the health of all citizens. 

Early March 2020, the Government of Benin has adopted a Covid-19 Emergency Health Response Plan of around USD 320 million (going beyond the direct response to the Covid-19 crisis, with around 80% of the plan dedicated to the Health System Strengthening). By April 10 2020, the Ministry of Health has received 5 million face masks, visors, respirators, gloves, personal protective equipment and drugs and is expected to  receive 6 million more face masks by April 13, 2020. 

Key resources

Contributor(s): Odile Akpaki (UNCTAD) & Olodo Marius

The C-19 Global South Observatory is a collaboration between