Cote d'Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara speaks next to his wife Dominique, after they cast their votes at a polling station during the legislative election in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire on March 6, 2021. [Photo/Agencies] Concerns have been raised over an increase in novel coronavirus cases in West Africa, and leaders have been urged to pursue and accelerate initiatives in their countries in order to achieve a timely post-pandemic economic recovery. At the 22nd session of the heads of state and government of the West African Economic and Monetary Union last week, Cote d'Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara, who is chairman of the session, said the pandemic had lowered the economic growth rate in the region from 5.8 percent in 2019 to 0.9 percent last year. Addressing the session via video conference on Thursday, Ouattara estimated an improvement in the rate this year to more than 5 percent, thanks to the member states' response and recovery plans. "We must continue and accelerate initiatives to strengthen our capacity to produce pharmaceutical products, vaccinate populations and go further in collaboration with our partners and regional institutions in the diligent implementation of response plans," he said. Ouattara's views were reflected in a United Nations Development Programme report released on Wednesday, titled "Rebuilding Communities Across 7 Impact Areas" in West Africa. According to the report, the onset of COVID-19 threatened to impede regional gains in stability and expose vulnerable communities to a higher level of economic instability. The UNDP recommended developing guidance notes, planning templates and other programmatic resources to integrate COVID-19 into West African countries' regional economic plans. "Countries in the region need to partner with private sector organizations and the international bodies to adapt trading practices to COVID-19 containment measures. They should also facilitate the establishment of a cross-border trade corridor that has been adapted to COVID-19 prevention measures in order to boost food security, livelihoods and increase the capacity to withstand COVID-19 shocks in vulnerable communities and populations," the report said. Meanwhile, in its latest country focus report on Nigeria, one of the leading West African economies, the International Monetary Fund said the COVID-19 pandemic has placed the country at a critical juncture as it entered the crisis with falling per capita income, high inflation and governance challenges. The IMF suggested that policy adjustments and reforms designed to shift Nigeria from its dependence on oil and to diversify the economy toward private sector-led growth will set the country on a more sustainable path to recovery. "Real GDP growth in 2021 is expected to turn positive at 1.5 percent and is expected to recover to its pre-pandemic level only in 2022.The near-term outlook is subject to downside risks from pandemic-related developments with Nigeria experiencing a second wave," IMF said in its analysis. "Successful economic diversification requires trade openness and competitive discipline. To accommodate a growing number of young people entering the labor market, Nigeria will need to create at least 5 million new jobs each year over the next decade. Based on the experience of other countries, embracing more open trade and competition policies would help diversify the economy and reinvigorate growth, particularly as the African Continental Free Trade Area takes effect," it added.