African countries have a new tool in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic: an online marketplace for medical supplies. The site makes COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment more accessible. On June 18, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa introduced the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), describing it as the “glue that is going to bind the continent together.” The World Health Organization reported that, by July, there had been more than 380,000 COVID-19 cases and 9,500 deaths in Africa. AMSP, a non-profit initiative, aims to help save lives while saving African countries billions of dollars.
Fighting COVID-19 by Connecting the Continent
The African Union, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Export-Import Bank and ECA, along with other organizations, collaborated to create Africa Medical Supplies Platform. The online marketplace works much like eBay and Amazon, enabling African Union Member States to access COVID-19 medical supplies efficiently. N95 masks, hand sanitizer, ventilators, surgical gloves, face shields, surgical masks, thermometers, oxygen concentrators, isolation gowns and diagnostic test kits are all available for purchase. The website also prioritizes products that are made in Africa. If healthcare providers want to obtain PPE or medical equipment, AMSP will connect them to reliable suppliers as well.
AMSP suppliers are reputable, and the procurement of medical supplies will be transparent and equitable. AMSP also allows African countries to better contain COVID-19 without competing with stronger health systems around the world. Additionally, South African Airways and Ethiopian Airways have committed to ensuring that supplies will be delivered expediently.
On July 17, African Union special envoy Strive Masiyiwa announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will support efforts to provide dexamethasone to Africa. The drug functions to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients in the United States and Europe. In Africa, dexamethasone will aid in the treatment of roughly one million people. Furthermore, the MasterCard Foundation has provided the African CDC with $15 million to purchase PCR tests through the platform. After African Union Member States register on the Africa Medical Supplies Platform, they will be able to access these medical supplies.
AMSP’s Potential Impact on Mass Testing
The ability to obtain and utilize a large number of COVID-19 test kits is a key component of containing COVID-19. Increased testing allows countries to better understand which precautions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, many African countries lack sufficient resources to administer mass testing. Commercial tests can be expensive and therefore difficult to distribute widely in lower-income countries.
According to Masiyiwa, about 0.17% of people in Africa had been tested for COVID-19 as of June. This rate is notable, especially in comparison to 3.16% in the United Kingdom and 4.41% in the United States. Mass testing can protect health workers and provides information about the groups most vulnerable to the virus. It can also help show whether lockdown measures and social distancing are effective. Masiyiwa attributes the African continent’s low testing rates to global shortages of test kits. AMSP was created in part to address this issue.
Lockdowns, another aspect of COVID-19 containment, are also harming African countries economically. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) estimates that the continent loses about $65 billion every month as a result of stay-at-home measures. Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the ECA, has stated that Africa Medical Supplies Platform “could save [Africa] $40 billion” because it allows for increased testing, which could reduce the need for strict lockdown rules. Less strict lockdown rules would also allow some people to go back to work and earn an income.
AMSP Helps Contain COVID-19 and Works Against Poverty
According to a recent AMSP press release, demand for medical equipment has been high since the Africa Medical Supplies Platform was launched in June. “Member States of the African Union, leading international non-governmental organizations as well as international and African foundations” have all used AMSP. This platform is helping African countries contain COVID-19 and boost their economies. It will also supply the COVID-19 vaccine, once available.
The World Bank estimates that the coronavirus pandemic will push 71 million people into extreme poverty, and people in India and Sub-Saharan Africa will be most affected. By helping combat the spread of COVID-19 and allowing health systems to function at lower costs, AMSP can also reduce the pandemic’s negative impact on individuals and prevent people across Africa from falling into extreme poverty.
– Rachel Powell