GENEVA – The United Nations is transporting the first cargo of vital medical supplies Tuesday to a number of African countries to help them contain the spread of COVID-19. The supplies, which are provided by the World Health Organization and transported by the World Food Program, will be airlifted from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to countries most in need.
Latest reports put the number of coronavirus infections in Africa at more than 10,500, including more than 500 deaths. But the World Health Organization fears the epidemic could spread quickly because of the fragility of health systems throughout the continent.
WHO says this so-called Solidarity Flight is only the first part of a larger effort to ship lifesaving medical supplies to 95 countries across all six WHO regions.
Spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program, Elizabeth Byrs says the cargo includes one million face masks, as well as personal protective equipment, and ventilators.
She says the supplies will be enough to protect health workers while treating more than 30,000 patients across the continent.
“This is by far the largest single shipment of supplies since the start of the pandemic and it will ensure that people living in countries with some of the weakest health systems are able to get tested and treated, while ensuring that health workers on the frontlines are properly protected,” she said.
WFP has a team of 25 aviation and logistics staff based at the airport in Addis Ababa. The agency provides logistical support to all humanitarian agencies, NGO partners and governments. It ships essential supplies and transports humanitarian workers wherever they are needed.
The African Union will coordinate the operation to see that crucial supplies go where they are most needed. WFP says it is ready to set up the logistics backbone for global COVID-19 efforts.
But establishing humanitarian hubs around the world to store and transport the crucial medical cargo is costly. WFP notes its appeal for $350 million has been met with a tepid response. It says it has received only 24 percent of what it needs. The U.N. food agency is urgently calling on donors to provide the money needed to carry out this vital COVID-19 humanitarian operation.