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COVID-19: Major relief airlift will reach ‘most vulnerable’ African nations

On board the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization  (WHO) Ethiopian Airlines charter, are one million face masks, along with gloves, goggles, ventilators and many other essentials. 

“We have seen time and again our health workers fall victim to infectious diseases as they work in hospitals and sometimes pass away”, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “This is unacceptable. This personal protective equipment will help keep them safe. WHO is committed to protecting those on the front-lines of healthcare.” 

There is enough equipment to protect health workers while they treat more than 30,000 patients across the continent, WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said: 

“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 heaths systems are able to get test and treated, while ensuring that health workers on the frontlines are properly protected.” 

95 countries targeted  

The supplies will be distributed in five other African countries initially – Djibouti, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Tanzania – as part of a wider effort to reach 95 countries most at risk from the new coronavirus with medical equipment and humanitarian workers. 

WHO reported that its logistics hub in Dubai has been working tirelessly to dispatch more than130 shipments of PPE and laboratory supplies to 95 countries, across all six WHO regions. 

“Commercial flights are grounded and medical cargo is stuck. We can stop this virus in its tracks, but we’ve got to work together”, said David Beasley, WFP’s Executive Director.  

“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.” 

To sustain such a massive logistical operation, WFP has appealed for $350 million, but it has so far only received a quarter of that amount. “We badly need funding and we stand ready to set up a logistical backbone for (the) global response effort”, Ms. Byrs said. 

Solidarity is key, says WHO 

Partnering in the enterprise, the UN health agency is highlighting the need for solidarity between countries and organisations to overcome the pandemic. 

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“This is an indication of how crucial it is and how important it is that we are all working across agencies and how this COVID response has to be an across UN response. This is how the world is going to beat it,” said Spokesperson Dr. Margaret Harris. 


In addition to face masks, gloves and goggles, other vitally needed personal protective equipment being transported includes face shields, medical gowns, aprons and thermometers. 

The UN health agency said in a statement that the cargo also includes “a large quantity” of medical supplies donated by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and the Jack Ma Foundation Initiative, started by the Chinese billionaire who founded the Alibaba Group. 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. 

In addition to dispatching vitally needed medical equipment and workers across Africa as part of the COVID-19 response, the Addis Ababa Humanitarian Air Hub will also ensuring medical evacuations for humanitarian workers. 

A team of 25 WFP aviation and logistics staff is based at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa to manage the 24-hour operation, the agency said.  

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