By Lisa Vives
As much of the world attempts to source much-needed face masks, Africa has been offered 5.4 million masks, more than a million testing kits and other items in a donation from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.
Massive medical supplies donated by the Jack Ma Foundation to 54 African countries arrived on March 22 morning in Addis Ababa, capital of the East African nation of Ethiopia, through an Ethiopian Airlines cargo flight.
The relief initiative forms part of Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation’s ongoing efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 and provide aid to afflicted communities across the globe.
Earlier this week, the foundations had announced their commitment to donating 100,000 medical masks, 20,000 test kits and 1,000 protective suits and face shields to each of the 54 nations on the African continent.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across Africa has climbed to 1,114 as 40 African countries reported confirmed cases, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention disclosed on March 21.
Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti will be the first countries to receive the consignment to be shipped out of Ethiopia this week.
“Getting these donations to all 54 African countries, with diverse geographic conditions and different levels of infrastructure, is a great logistical and transportation challenge,” the foundation said. “We are working around the clock to make the delivery as fast as possible.”
Ethiopia’s Health Ministry will coordinate the distribution together with the national carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, and with support from the World Food Program and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said. Abiy announced a week ago he had struck a deal with Ma.
A Chinese aid package is also being sent to the European Union, including masks and test kits for Italy, as Rome faces the most urgent needs among member states in the coronavirus crisis.
“China has not forgotten that in January … the EU helped,” Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Union, said in a video posted on Twitter. “Today, we are the centre of the coronavirus outbreak pandemic, and we need protective equipment ourselves.”
Meanwhile, some health professionals have begun reusing masks and gloves. Others have taken to social media with public pleas for help using the hashtag #GetMePPE, an acronym for personal protective equipment. Without proper covering, every new bedside visit might prove fatal, especially for older physicians and their families.
“The sky is falling,” one doctor wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times.
“We’re heading into the abyss,” wrote another.
The short supply of masks in particular is dire.