Rome/Geneva — The first United Nations "solidarity flight" left Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, today from where it will transport vital medical cargo to all countries in Africa, where supplies are desperately needed to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The World Health Organization (WHO) cargo was transported by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and includes face shields, gloves, goggles, gowns, masks, medical aprons, and thermometers, as well as ventilators.
The cargo also includes a large quantity of medical supplies donated by the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Jack Ma Foundation Initiative to reverse COVID-19 in Africa. 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.
"Commercial flights are grounded and medical cargo is stuck. We can stop this virus in its tracks, but we've got to work together. WFP is committed to getting vital medical supplies to frontlines and shielding medical workers as they save lives," said David Beasley, 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," he added.
"The Solidarity Flight is part of a larger effort to ship lifesaving medical supplies to 95 countries," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. "I would like to thank the African Union, the governments of UAE and Ethiopia, the Jack Ma Foundation and all our partners for their solidarity with African countries at this critical moment in history."
The crucial WHO cargo includes one million face masks, as well as personal protective equipment, which will be enough to protect health workers while treating more than 30,000 patients across the continent.
"The African Union values the efforts of our partners – the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the Jack Ma Foundation/Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – in supporting the African continental strategy for COVID-19 response. The medical supplies are much needed at this critical time that medical commodities are in short supply worldwide," said Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission. "The African Union will continue to provide the coordination needed as well as resources to ensure that our Member States are able to meet the need for healthcare services during this pandemic," he added.
"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 frontlines of health care," she added.
"Thanks to the Government of the United Arab Emirates for its generous support of this operation, WHO's regional logistics hub in Dubai has played a key role in making sure that these supplies are prepared and shipped to where they are most needed. 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," said Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
The WFP and WHO thanks the Government of Ethiopia for helping WFP set up the Addis Ababa Humanitarian Air Hub this week, to help transport protective equipment, medical supplies and humanitarian workers across Africa for the COVID-19 response, and for ensuring medical evacuations for humanitarian responders.
A team of 25 WFP aviation and logistics staff are based at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, managing the 24-hour operation. They manage warehouse space for dry bulk, temperature-controlled and cold storage cargo and their shipments. WFP also provides dedicated cargo tracking, warehouse management and customer service to countries across Africa in collaboration with the Africa CDC.
"The medical supplies are timely as the continent still has a window of opportunity to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Collective and fast actions as exemplified by the solidarity flight are therefore critical," said John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC.
As part of a global appeal to raise US$2 billion for the COVID-19 response, launched by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on 25 March 2020, WFP is calling for US$350 million to establish vital humanitarian hubs around the world to facilitate the storage and dispatch of essential medical cargo, set up air transport links for cargo and personnel, contract charter vessels for shipping services, and provide passenger air and Medevac services for humanitarian and health workers. This includes such solidary flights through Addis Ababa.
The United Nations World Food Programme is the world's largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies, building prosperity and supporting a sustainable future for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change. Learn more at www.wfp.org.
WHO is the United Nations' specialized agency for health. It is an inter-governmental organization and works in collaboration with its Member States usually through the Ministries of Health. The WHO is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. Learn more at www.who.int.
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About Africa CDC
Africa CDC is a specialized technical institution of the African Union which supports Member States in their efforts to strengthen health systems and improve surveillance, emergency response, prevention and control of diseases. For more information. Learn more at: https://africacdc.org/.