Africa Dangerously Behind In Race For Supplies

JOHANNESBURG (AP) – As Africa prepares for an increase in coronavirus cases, its countries are dangerously behind in the global race to acquire medical supplies. Ten nations do not have a single respirator.

Surpassed by richer nations and without receiving equipment from its main donor, the United States, the authorities are looking for solutions while the number of confirmed infections exceeds 25,000. Even in the best possible scenario, the United Nations says 74 million tests and 30,000 respirators will be needed this year for the 1.3 billion people on the continent. And there are few available.


“We are competing with the developed world,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Africa. “The future of the continent will depend on how this matter is managed.”

Instinctively, politicians try to protect their population and “we know that sometimes the worst of human behavior comes out,” said Simon Missiri, director for Africa of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, calling for an approach equitable to help developing nations.

The crisis has led African nations to create a joint purchasing platform under the umbrella of the African Union (AU) to improve their bargaining power. Within days of its formation, the UA obtained more than 100,000 proof tests from a German firm. The World Health Organization (WHO) is intervening by contacting manufacturers to obtain supplies.

Africa is also benefiting from the largest United Nations emergency humanitarian operation in decades, with shipments of medical supplies including hundreds of respirators that arrived in Ethiopia this month for distribution across the continent. Another shipment from the Jack Ma Foundation is on the way.

But Africa does not stop at donations, Nkengasong said. Instead, he asks for a fair chance in the markets and approached China “not for donations. Quotas that Africa as a continent can buy ”.

These efforts respond to a global increase in protectionism: More than 70 countries have restricted their exports of medical devices, leaving Africa in a “dangerous position,” says the UN. New travel bans have closed borders and airports, severely disrupting supply chains.

Such efforts are a response to a global thicket of protectionism: more than 70 countries have restricted exports of medical items, putting Africa in a “dangerous position,” says the UN. New travel bans have closed borders and airports, severely tearing supply chains.

“It’s like the people who collect toilet paper, which is something I still don’t understand,” Amer Daoudi, director of operations for the UN World Food Program (WFP), told The Associated Press. “The countries of Europe and North America are paying attention to their own internal needs, but we believe that these will diminish very soon.”

While major international humanitarian donors are distracted, WFP, the leading UN logistics agency, launched an emergency operation to reach an unprecedented number of countries. If it is normally present in some 80 nations, this initiative involves almost 120, Daoudi added.

WFP seeks $ 350 million to keep its operations running in Africa and elsewhere, distributing aid for the pandemic and for other crises such as HIV and cholera, which need to keep medicines and vaccines flowing. Africa imports up to 94% of the pharmaceutical products it consumes, according to the UN.

After ensuring their access to medical equipment, some countries on the continent have complicated the distribution of the material, slowing down shipments at their ports: 43 have closed their borders.

Developing countries have adopted different approaches in this pandemic. China is the main source of aid in Southeast Asia. In South Asia, several countries have committed to India’s proposed COVID-19 Emergency Fund. Small nations in the South Pacific have come together to get equipment, and some countries in Latin America are trying to free shipments stranded in the United States or make their own supplies.

In Africa, the public and private sectors have come together like never before. “The irresponsible behavior of the richest countries” will not solve the pandemic, said Amit Thakker, president of the African Federation for Health Care, criticizing “any country that diverts supplies for the benefit of its own citizens” at the expense of developing countries .


Journalists from The Associated Press around the world contributed to this report.