By Akanimo Sampson
Vital medical items are being airlifted to countries in Africa where supplies are desperately needed to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The first United Nations “Solidarity Flight” left Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Tuesday.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) cargo is being transported by the World Food Programme (WFP) and includes face shields, gloves, goggles, gowns, masks, medical aprons and thermometers, as well as ventilators.
The cargo also includes a large number of medical supplies donated by the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Jack Ma Foundation Initiative to reverse COVID-19 in Africa.
The African Union, through the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), is providing technical support and coordination for the distribution of the supplies.
Africa CDC is, however, a specialised technical institution of the African Union which supports member states in their efforts to strengthen health systems and improve surveillance, emergency response, prevention and control of diseases.
WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley, says “commercial flights are grounded and medical cargo is stuck. We can stop this virus in its tracks, but we’ve got to work together. WFP is committed to getting vital medical supplies to front lines and shielding medical workers as they save lives.
“Our air bridges need to be fully funded to do this, and we stand ready to transport frontline health and humanitarian workers as well as medical cargo.”
WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says “the Solidarity Flight is part of a larger effort to ship lifesaving medical supplies to 95 countries. I would like to thank the African Union, the governments of UAE and Ethiopia, the Jack Ma Foundation and all our partners for their solidarity with African countries at this critical moment in history.”
The crucial WHO cargo includes one million face masks, as well as personal protective equipment, which will be enough to protect health workers while treating more than 30,000 patients across the continent and laboratory supplies to support surveillance and detection.
Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, says “the African Union values the efforts of our partners – WHO, WFP, the Jack Ma Foundation/Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – in supporting the African continental strategy for COVID-19 response.
“The medical supplies are much needed at this critical time that medical commodities are in short supply worldwide. The African Union will continue to provide the coordination needed as well as resources to ensure that our Member States are able to meet the need for healthcare services during this pandemic.”
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, adds “we have seen time and again our health workers fall victim to infectious diseases as they work in hospitals, and sometimes pass away. This is unacceptable. This personal protective equipment will help keep them safe. WHO is committed to protecting those on the front-lines of health care.”
WHO’s logistics hub in Dubai, staffed by a team of seven, has been working around the clock to dispatch over 130 shipments of PPE and laboratory supplies to 95 countries across all six WHO regions.
On his part, Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, says “thanks to the government of the United Arab Emirates for its generous support of this operation, WHO’s regional logistics hub in Dubai has played a key role in making sure these supplies are prepared and shipped to where they are most needed.
“This is by far the largest single shipment of supplies since the start of the pandemic, and will ensure that people living in countries with some of the weakest heaths systems are able to get the test and treated while ensuring that health workers on the frontlines are properly protected.”
The WFP and WHO extend thanks to the government of Ethiopia, which helped WFP set up the Addis Ababa Humanitarian Air Hub this week, to help transport protective equipment, medical supplies and humanitarian workers across Africa for the COVID-19 response, as well as ensuring medical evacuations for humanitarian responders.
A team of 25 WFP aviation and logistics staff is based at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, managing the 24-hour operation. They manage warehouse space for dry bulk, temperature-controlled and cold storage cargo and its onward transport by air. WFP also provides dedicated cargo tracking, warehouse management and customer service to countries across Africa in collaboration with the Africa CDC.
Director of the Africa CDC, John Nkengasong, says “the medical supplies are timely as the continent still has a window of opportunity to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Collective and fast actions as exemplified by the Solidarity Flight are therefore critical.”
As part of a global appeal to raise a $2 billion for the COVID-19 response, launched by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on March 25, WFP is calling for $350 million to establish vital humanitarian hubs around the world to facilitate the storage and dispatch of essential medical cargo, set up air transport links for cargo and personnel, contract charter vessels for shipping services, and provide passenger air and Medevac services for humanitarian and health workers.
This includes such Solidary Flights through Addis Ababa. Currently, WFP has received only 24% ($84 million) of the $350 million it requires to provide these vital common services to the global humanitarian community.
While WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation, saving lives in emergencies, building prosperity and supporting a sustainable future for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change, WHO is a UN specialised agency for health.
It is an inter-governmental organisation and works in collaboration with its member states usually through the health ministries. WHO is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.