Africa is bracing itself for a wave of coronavirus cases, and countries are dangerously lagging behind in the global race for scarce medical equipment. Ten countries have no fans at all.
Outbid by wealthier countries, and because they don’t receive medical equipment from the largest aid donor in the United States, African officials are looking for solutions as the virus rate exceeds 25,000. Even in the best scenario, the United Nations says it will need 74 million test kits and 30,000 fans this year for the 1.3 billion people on the continent. There are very few in your hand.
“We compete with the developed world,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The future of the continent depends on how this issue is handled.”
Politicians instinctively seek to protect their own people, and “we know that sometimes the worst in human behavior comes to the fore,” said Simon Missiri, Africa Director at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, urging a fair approach to help developing countries.
The crisis has prompted African countries to create a common purchasing platform under the African Union to improve bargaining power. Within days of its foundation, the AU landed over 1.00,000 test kits from a German source. The World Health Organization participates and approaches manufacturers for supplies.
Africa also benefits from the largest UN humanitarian emergency operation in decades, with medical supplies including hundreds of fans arriving in Ethiopia this month and being sent to all countries of the continent. Another Jack Ma Foundation shipment is underway.
But Africa does not hold out for begging, Nkengasong said. Instead, it calls for a fair crack in markets – and approaches China for “no donations.” Quotas that Africa can buy as a continent ‘.
Such efforts are a response to a global stumbling block to protectionism: more than 70 countries have curtailed exports of medical supplies, putting Africa in a “dangerous position”, the UN says. New travel bans have closed borders and airports, severely affecting supply chains.
“It’s like people potting toilet paper, which I still don’t understand,” Amer Daoudi, senior operations director of the UN World Food Program, told The Associated Press. “Countries in Europe and North America are paying attention to their own internal needs, but we think that will diminish soon.”
While countries traditionally the world’s top humanitarian donors have been distracted, WFP, the UN logistics leader, has launched the emergency operation with unprecedented reach. Normally, nearly 120 people are involved in about 80 countries, Daoudi said.
The WFP is aiming to make the operation $ 350 million for Africa and elsewhere by providing assistance for the pandemic and other crises such as HIV and cholera that need drugs and vaccines to keep flowing. Africa imports a whopping 94% of its medicines, the UN says.
A municipal worker cleans the street of the popular Medina district of Dakar after a bulldozer broke down informal shops in an attempt to stop the spread of the corona virus. (File photo: AP)
“I’ve never been involved in anything like this. I don’t think any of us did that, ”said Stephen Cahill, WFP logistics director. “We see countries taking measures that we think are not always rational. When you start closing borders, we get very nervous. ”
Some African countries, after securing medical equipment, have complicated delivery due to cargo stopping at ports; 43 have closed their borders.
The global supply crisis is so urgent that the UN General Assembly this week passed a resolution calling on countries to immediately end “speculation and over-stocking”. Separately, China said it will not limit exports of needed medical supplies.
Development regions follow different approaches. China is the most important resource in Southeast Asia. In South Asia, several countries have committed to the Covid-19 Emergency Fund proposed by India. Small island states in the South Pacific work together to get equipment. And some Latin American countries are trying to secure equipment that is stuck in US ports or make their own supplies.
But global disruptions are especially felt across Africa, where governments that have historically underfunded health systems work together in an effort that is likened to war.
“Where a product used to cost a dollar, for example, it has now risen a hundredfold,” said Africa’s Deputy Director of CDC, Ahmed Ogwell. While many African countries have money on hand, the trading companies that use them face extreme challenges: “Country X may start saying, ‘I’ll pay you double what you’re offered’.”
In the United States, the Trump administration has said that coronavirus assistance to high-risk countries would not include key medical equipment to meet demand at home.
“I haven’t heard a single situation in any of our countries where the US has made medical supplies available everywhere,” said Charles Franzen, director of humanitarian and disaster relief for World Relief.
When asked how many fans and test kits have been shipped to Africa, a senior US government official said that aid focuses on water, sanitation and messages: “We are also looking at the needs of personal protective equipment and fans and will be making those decisions very soon. ”
In response, the African public and private health sector have worked together like never before. “Irresponsible behavior by richer countries” does not solve the pandemic, said Amit Thakker, president of the Africa Healthcare Federation, and criticized “any country that diverts goods for its own citizens” at the expense of developing countries.
In South Africa, Business for South Africa works closely with the Ministry of Health to obtain supplies. Now that countries with better resources are more likely to score deals, “isn’t that great for Africa. … Fans are like trying to literally spot a dodo bird,” said Stavros Nicolaou, who is leading BSA’s efforts.
But South Africa has used relationships with economic allies to bring drugs from India and protective equipment from China.
And yet South Africa only has about four weeks of protective equipment, Nicolaou said. With the pandemic arriving later than elsewhere in Africa, “we have entered the fight fairly late when the supply chain is very limited.”
World powers must share, especially as the pandemic hits countries at different times, said one of Africa’s leading philanthropists, Sudan-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim. “Now is the time for everyone to act together, not compete.”
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