A “solidarity flight” from the United Nations is set to visit countries in Africa to provide them with “desperately needed” medical supplies, to help contain the spread of COVID-19, the UN announced on Tuesday.
Among the supplies being provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) are one million face masks, gloves, goggles, and medical aprons, alongisde other personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health care workers, to help keep them safe while they work to treat patients.
In total, the PPE being provided will be enough to protect health workers while treating more than 30,000 patients across the continent, according to the WHO, as well as laboratory supplies to support surveillance and detection.
The shipment — which is being transported by the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) — will also provide equipment to treat and care for patients, such as thermometers and ventilators.
The flight was scheduled to leave Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, on Tuesday — and is the first flight in a "larger effort to ship lifesaving medical supplies to 95 countries," according to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO.
The supplies will first be distributed in five other African countries: Djibouti, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, and Tanzania, according to the UN.
Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, and the Jack Ma Foundation Initiative have also donated medical supplies. Meanwhile, the African Union, through the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is providing technical support and distribution coordination.
"We can stop this virus iin its tracks, but we've got to work together," said David Beasley, the WFP's executive director. "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."
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's regional director for Africa added: "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 frontlines of health care."
Meanwhile, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the WHO's regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, highlighted that 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 health systems are able to get tested and treated, while ensuring that health workers on the frontlines are properly protected."
The WHO's logistical hub has reportedly been working 24-7 to dispatch more than 130 shipments of PPE and lab supplies to 95 countries, considered the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and its impacts, across all six regions that the WHO works in.
The African continent still has “a window of opportunity” to address the COVID-19 pandemic if the right supplies are available, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa has surpassed 15,000, and the number of confirmed deaths from coronavirus is now over 800, according to Africa News. The international community is particularly concerned about a widespread outbreak in Africa, given that many countries have fragile healthcare systems that are especially vulnerable to being overwhelmed.