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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While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jeff Turrentine
Tamara Lindeman certainly doesn't seem particularly anxious, or grief stricken, or angry. In fact, in a recent Zoom conversation, the Toronto-based singer-songwriter (who records and performs under the name The Weather Station) comes across as friendly, thoughtful, and a little shy.
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