Africa Has a Troubling Shortage of Ventilators, Masks and Soap
The glaring lack of adequate medical resources is becoming increasingly pronounced as developing nations try to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak.
In Africa, for example, there are fewer than 2,000 working ventilators in public hospitals across 41 African countries, the World Health Organization says, compared with more than 170,000 in the U.S., as The New York Times reported.
Ten countries in Africa have none at all.
Somalia's Health Ministry has none. The Central African Republic has three. South Sudan has four, which is one fewer than the number of vice presidents it has. Liberia has five. Nigeria, with a population of over 200 million, has fewer than 100, as The Washington Post reported.
The paltry number of ventilators across the continent means that patients who appear at hospitals with the most severe acute respiratory symptoms from the novel coronavirus have little chance of surviving. While the number of ventilators is expected to increase as donations trickle in, few doctors across the continent have had the extensive training necessary to use them. Also, the ventilators usually require an anesthesiologist to intubate patients, or at least supervise the process, but anesthesiologists are scarce in Africa, according to The Washington Post.
The shortage of ventilators, training and specialists required to make them functional is only part of the massive shortage in resources that poorer countries face during the global pandemic. Health officials have also warned about a dire shortage of oxygen and masks. Even soap and water are in short supply.
According to the United Nations, only 15 percent of sub-Saharan Africans had access to basic hand-washing facilities in 2015. In Liberia, UN numbers showed that in 2017, 97 percent of homes did not have access to soap and clean water, according to The New York Times.
"The things that people need are simple things," said Kalipso Chalkidou, the director of global health policy at the Center for Global Development, a research group, as The New York Times reported. "Not high-tech things."
As of Saturday, there were more than 21,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,000 deaths across the continent. The World Health Organization said that the virus appears to be spreading away from Africa's capital cities. The UN Economic Commission for Africa warned that 300,000 could die and called for a $100 billion safety net for the continent, including halting external debt payments, as the BBC reported.
"Anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19, depending on the intervention measures taken to stop the spread," the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa said in a report released Friday.
The problem, according to the UN agency, rests partly with the layout and infrastructure of some of Africa's biggest cities, where the majority of the urban population lives in overcrowded neighborhoods without reliable access to hand-washing facilities, as NPR reported.
"We are now failing. Let me use that word deliberately," said Mahad Hassan, one of Somalia's few epidemiologists and a member of the government's coronavirus task force, as The Washington Post reported. "At our main treatment center, almost nothing is there. Last time I visited, beds, only beds. No oxygen, no ventilators."
Liberia's minister of information explained to The New York Times that attempts to procure medical equipment run into problems like wealthier countries hoarding supplies, bidding against other governments, and price gouging by suppliers.
"We keep fighting with our neighbors and the big countries. Even having a contract is not a guarantee we're going to get a supply," Eugene Nagbe, the minister of information said. One vendor, after entering a contract, turned around and raised the price from the agreed-upon $15,000 per ventilator to $24,000, he added, as The New York Times reported.
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At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>