In the largest mobilization of private resources to protect Africa’s frontline health workers from COVID-19, a new 30-member coalition last month announced it has begun delivering nearly 60 million pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to countries across sub-Saharan Africa in the initiative’s first round.
The COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa (CAFA) is working in partnership with Ministries of Health to meet the essential PPE needs (including surgical masks, gloves, eye protection and more) of up to one million community health workers serving over 400 million people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
CAFA is anchored by a $10 million (Sh1 billion) commitment from Direct Relief, with additional support from Crown Family Philanthropies, and in-kind contributions from over thirty collaborating partners. In partnership with CAFA, the World Food Programme has committed to provide donated freight and logistics worth more than $1 million (Sh100 million). The Fund seeks to raise up to $100 million (Sh10 billion) to supply PPE to community health workers in as many as 24 African countries for approximately one year.
“This is a valiant and essential effort to mobilize PPE to protect our frontline heroes: community health workers,” says Agnes Binagwaho, Vice Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity and former Rwandan Minister of Health. “By preventing the spread of disease across their communities while ensuring the continuum of primary care, community health workers play a central role in all epidemics, especially COVID-19. As such, it is essential that we, as a global community, ensure they are respected, supported, and protected.”
Responding to estimated needs verified directly by Ministries of Health in each country, CAFA has thus far purchased an initial 25 million surgical masks, 35 million gloves, 822,000 face shields and 974,000 isolation gowns for the initiative. It is transporting the PPE to the ports of entry in each of the African countries, where local CAFA partners will deliver the supplies to the community health workers in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. The PPE will fill the equivalent of nine 747 cargo jets and weigh 441 metric tons. The first 500,000 pieces have been shipped from Direct Relief’s California warehouse, of which some have arrived in Lesotho and Zimbabwe; shipments are in progress for as many as 10 additional countries in the first round.
While a global shortage of PPE is affecting all health workers, the brunt has fallen on low- and middle-income countries and community health workers in particular. In the absence of PPE, community health workers put themselves and the people they serve at risk. The current drop in access to PPE in Africa has already been followed by a 203 percent increase in COVID-19 infections among health workers. The experience of past epidemics, including the 2015 West African Ebola crisis, has shown that disruption of essential health services often leads to higher mortality rates than the epidemic itself.
As of Aug. 20, there were over 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the African continent and more than 20,000 deaths. COVID-19 threatens to reverse the health and economic progress of recent years, as projections suggest its economies could lose nearly $200 billion in GDP in 2020.