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Africa low on gear to fight coronavirus as cases surge

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Continent only has about 2,000 ventilators spread across 41 countries

The Associated Press · Posted: Apr 24, 2020 11:01 AM ET | Last Updated: April 24

Africa’s coronavirus cases have surged 43 per cent in the past week but its countries are behind in the global race for scarce medical equipment. Ten countries have no ventilators at all.

Outbid by richer countries and not receiving medical gear from top aid donor the United States, African officials scramble for solutions as virus cases climb past 27,000. Even in the best scenario, the United Nations says 74 million test kits and 30,000 ventilators will be needed by the continent’s 1.3 billion people this year. Very few are in hand.

“We are competing with the developed world,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The very future of the continent will depend on how this matter is handled.”

Politicians instinctively try to protect their own people and “we know that sometimes the worst in human behaviour comes out,” said Simon Missiri, Africa director with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, urging an equitable approach to help developing nations.

The crisis has jolted African countries into creating a pooled purchasing platform under the African Union to improve negotiating power. Within days of its formation, the AU landed more than 100,000 test kits from a German source. The World Health Organization is pitching in. It has reported fewer than 2,000 ventilators across 41 African countries.