200 000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrive in Maputo, Mozambique on a TAP flight. © Camões, I.P., 2021.

In practice

Mobilising expertise across the Portuguese government to respond to COVID-19

Key messages

Portugal’s development co-operation draws on expertise across government and society to respond to partner country needs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the long-standing engagement of line ministries with peer institutions in partner countries, combined with cross-government co‑ordination at headquarters, enabled Portugal to respond quickly to partner country requests in a broad range of areas.

Challenge

KeywordsGlobal goods and challenges, Institutional arrangement, Partner countries, Partnerships

Key partnerPortugal

Last updated07 February 2022

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The complexity of many development issues requires development co-operation partners to draw on resources, skills and expertise from across their governments to deliver on policy priorities. However, co‑ordinating these different actors and institutions can be complicated. The swift and uncertain trajectory of crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic can add to the challenge, requiring development co-operation partners to be ready to deliver varied and well co‑ordinated support in a matter of weeks.

Approach

In early 2020, Portugal quickly developed a cross-government COVID-19 Health Response Action Plan to meet the many and varied requests for assistance from its partner countries. It did so by:

  • Using the existing Inter-Ministerial Commission for Co-operation (Comissão Interministerial para a Cooperação, CIC) to bring together a range of ministries to develop the plan – including foreign affairs, health, national defence, internal administration, science, technology and higher education, labour, solidarity, and social security. It also involved other actors with close ties to Portugal’s priority partner countries, such as the Portuguese Society of Intensive Care, the LP Science Center, Order of Pharmacists, as well as the Aga Khan and Gulbenkian Foundations.

  • Adjusting the approach through a mid-term review of the Action Plan in February 2021 to ensure implementation was on track. The results were presented to representatives of Portugal’s partner countries and are feeding into subsequent phases of the Action Plan.

Results

  • The Action Plan is broadly owned by all stakeholders. By using cross-government mechanisms such as the CIC, Portugal was able to co-ordinate the various response efforts and draw effectively on stakeholders in government as well as Portuguese society.

  • Portuguese assistance was able to meet a wide range of needs. Partner country requests ranged from equipment and medical supplies, to teams of intensive care doctors and staff, and training for local staff and authorities. The collaborative approach enabled Portugal to draw on the breadth of expertise available to respond to these requests. Over 30 training actions had been carried out as of December 2021 (24 in online mode and 6 in person).

  • Response efforts were appropriate to partner countries. For example, when the pandemic reached Angola, Portugal’s National Institute of Medical Emergency (INEM), which has long-standing co-operation with and deep understanding of the country and its institutions, was able to deliver an effective and appropriate response.

  • Vaccines were provided transparently. Accompanying the Action Plan was a political commitment to make available to priority partner countries at least 5% of the COVID‑19 vaccines acquired by Portugal. Transportation costs were initially supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October 2021, TAP, Portugal’s national airline carrier, and Camões, I.P., Portugal’s development co-operation agency, signed an Institutional Partnership Agreement, which enabled TAP to transport the vaccines pro bono, whenever possible. Vaccine deliveries were accompanied by regular announcements, helping to ensure transparency. As of December 2021, vaccines and other medical consumables worth approximately EUR 4.11 million had been provided to partner countries, including the donation of 1.97 million vaccine doses, requiring extensive co-ordination efforts by Camões and Portuguese Co-operation Centres.

Lessons learnt

  • Good understanding and solid, long-standing relationships with counterparts in partner countries and local authorities ensure smooth transactions and a sound basis for an efficient response.

  • Use existing cross-government co‑ordination mechanisms as a framework for mobilising efforts. In Portugal, the existence of the CIC at political level, and its secretariat at technical level, gave the Action Plan broad ownership and high-level backing.

  • Collaboration is easier to achieve if it is made part of the institutional fabric. This can be achieved by establishing a dedicated, multi-disciplinary team to drive collaboration; identifying inconsistencies in existing rules and procedures; using digital tools for real-time strategic co-ordination; and clarifying the division of tasks. Where possible, mainstreaming a multi-stakeholder culture will promote lasting results.

Further information

Camões, I.P., Plano de Ação na resposta sanitária à Pandemia COVID-19, entre Portugal e os PALOP e TL [Action Plan in the Health Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Between Portugal and the PALOP and TL], unpublished.

Camões, I.P., Balanço do Plano de Ação na Resposta Sanitária à Pandemia COVID-19, entre Portugal e os PALOP e TL [Review of the Action Plan in the Health Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Between PALOP and Timor-Leste], unpublished.

OECD resources

OECD (2022), Development Co-operation Peer Reviews: Portugal 2022, https://doi.org/10.1787/550fb40e-en.

OECD (2020), Development Insights: DAC peer learning brief on working across government, https://one.oecd.org/official-document/DCD/DAC(2020)46/en.

To learn more about Portugal’s development co-operation see:

OECD, "Portugal", in Development Co-operation Profiles, https://doi.org/10.1787/12c61cf7-en.

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