An UN-led initiative is on the way to obtain the supply of key medical equipment for 135 low-income countries, said WHO on 28th April 2020. The demand is 200 times more than the normal levels, given the unprecedented global shortage of critical supplies, very high prices, and export bans, said Paul Molinaro, Chief, Operations Support and Logistics, WHO Health Emergencies Programme.
“The demand has increased in those markets 100 or 200 times normal demand”, he told journalists via video conference. A dedicated "COVID-19 Supply Portal" is set to launch within days, enabling countries to submit supply requests. “The third part is the allocation process based on vulnerabilities and gaps and critical needs.
The WHO has so far distributed 1.1 Million test kits to 129 countries and “we have another 1.5 million on the way”, Mr Molinaro said, stating that the new supply chain will secure 9 million more tests. Also, partner agency UNICEF has shipped supplies to 44 countries including 1.2 million surgical masks, more than 320,000 respirators, 6.4 million surgical gloves, and over 250,000 gowns. UNICEF has also shipped oxygen concentrators, basic surgical equipment, stethoscopes, medication, and nutrition to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), along with personal protective equipment to Iran and Venezuela, and a 50-bed COVID-19 isolation and treatment unit to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
The initiative is expected to deliver 50 million respirators, 10 million face shields, 28 million surgical gloves, 75 million face masks, and three million goggles for distribution. Discussions are also ongoing with the Jack Ma Foundation for 100 million surgical masks and one million respirators, WHO said in a statement.
The plan experiences some hurdles amidst the border closure and delays which is hampering the aid delivery, WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said: “We are seeing long queues of trucks waiting, because…some governments like Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda are taking the temperature of the truck drivers; this slows the delivery of food in the country.” “There are enormous challenges and the longer we continue to face this situation, it’s clear there are going to be repercussions outside the COVID response,” said Mr Molinaro. “We already see UNICEF vaccine shipments which are highly dependent on commercial air cargo, we do see those having been disrupted in the month of May - in the month of April sorry- if this continues into May, there will be gaps in routine immunization and also in campaigns against outbreaks of other diseases.”
When asked about distribution to Latin American countries, WHO officials replied that although there may have been some “difficulties…in the beginning” when the caseload wasn’t high. They are on the way to planning the next move to acquire the PPEs and those will be directed to the required locations.
The World Food Programme (WFP) also informed about a massive increase in global food insecurity in East African countries. 20 million people are now food insecure like in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, and Eritrea,” said WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs.
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