Africa: Ventilators the Missing Vital Link in COVID-19 War

South Africa is on lockdown in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

As Covid-19 cases become the biggest infectious pandemic in a century, officials and healthcare workers are scrambling to keep national health systems above water.

The harbinger of how bad things could get lies right in Europe's midst, as the death toll in Italy and Spain leaps by hundreds each day.

Doctors there are struggling to keep thousands of patients alive -- which requires staff, beds and a constant supply of protective equipment.

Ventilators have become like a song in every appeal from Italy to Spain and other European countries, as well as the United States.

So critical are the equipment that they will determine who survives and who dies in the Covid-19 rampage.

A ventilator is a mechanical breathing device that uses pressure to blow air into the lungs to ensure a patient gets enough oxygen.

They are mainly used in intensive care medicine and emergency medicine but also when a patient undergoing surgery is heavily anaesthetised.


They are extremely vital to the care and survival of patients with lung failure, which can be one of the complications suffered in severe cases of Covid-19.

The price of a ventilator ranges between Sh2.5 million and Sh5 million.

The United Kingdom has 8,175 ventilators, including those intended for children or located in private clinics and military storage.

But that is only 12.9 machines for every 100,000 people. But at least the government has ordered up to 30,000 more from manufacturers.

According to Italy's National Emergencies Ministry, there are about 5,000 ventilators for the entire country -- or 8.3 per 100,000 people.

The government has ordered another 5,000 and may have recently received more in an aid package from Russia.

In Russia's public hospitals, there are 40,000 ventilators -- or 27.3 ventilators for every 100,000 people -- significantly surpassing most Western countries. Its hospitals are purchasing more.


According to the New York Times, there are about 170,000 ventilators in the US while the American Hospital Association estimates 960,000 people will need them during the pandemic.

In Kenya, which was particularly slow to act against Covid-19, government pronouncements are now accompanied by a palpable sense of panic and ever more desperate appeals.

The mood has now shifted from an initial nonchalance to heightened seriousness as officials impose increasingly strict measures.

This is why Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe is frantically striving his level best to do whatever he can to limit the spread of the virus.

Should we fail to stop the spread, bearing in mind that we have less than 200 ICU beds in our public hospitals, we will have lost the game.

Fanon Gitobu, community health and humanitarian crisis expert.

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