Starting Ahead, Staying Ahead: Senegal’s Rapid Response to COVID-19, 2019 - 2020


Senegal entered the COVID-19 pandemic with what seemed to be grave disadvantages, among them the inability of most households to adjust to prolonged lockdowns, given their dependence on wages they earned day to day. But the West African country also enjoyed an advantage: it was well prepared for an epidemic. In the years following the 2014 Ebola outbreak, Senegal had built a comprehensive health-care emergency response system, and when COVID-19 arrived in March 2020, Senegal moved fast. President Macky Sall declared a state of emergency and announced immediate restrictions to limit the spread of the virus. The country’s emergency operations center became the headquarters for a dedicated COVID-19 Incident Management System, and the Dakar branch of the international Pasteur Institute helped develop a rapid diagnostic test. The government spent 7% of its gross domestic product—more than any other country in Africa—on socioeconomic support measures. The response team credited those measures with the successful containment of community spread during the first wave of the disease. During 2020, the numbers of ill people coming to hospitals and health facilities for treatment remained low, and disease models suggested that subsequent waves were generally of short duration—even after an October religious pilgrimage that had brought thousands together under crowded conditions.


Leon Schreiber and Matthew Schofield drafted this case study based on interviews conducted with the help of Placide Muhigana in February, March, and June 2021. Case study published August 2021. This case study was supported by the United Nations Development Programme Crisis Bureau as part of a series on center-of-government coordination of the pandemic response.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.

public trust
crisis response
disease control
Focus Area(s)
Pandemic Response
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Norm coordination
Trust and legitimacy
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Leon Schreiber and Matthew Schofield