Ventilators Are Almost Non-Existent On The African Continent


Ventilators Are Almost Non-Existent On The African Continent

The oxygen divide: Ventilators for Europeans, soap for Africans?
We must reject policies which will limit the access to oxygen therapy for millions of people.

How many times a day do we hear that coronavirus is “the great leveller”, infecting world leaders and bus drivers alike? Should we be finding it reassuring that a deadly virus is the thread that unites our shared humanity across increasingly unequal societies?

This common refrain does not hold up well to scrutiny. While lawyers and bankers work from the safety of their homes, low paid professionals like care home staff, hospital cleaners and delivery drivers continue to work in environments where they are more at risk of contracting the disease.

Self-isolation is not an option for vulnerable communities, such as refugees or the homeless. And some communities are clearly more vulnerable to the disease: In the United States state of Louisiana, for example, 70 percent of the COVID-19 deaths are African Americans, yet the African American community makes up just 33 percent of the population.

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Intensive care units have buckled under pressure in China, Europe and the US. However, large swaths of the world face a different scenario. Gaza has approximately 20 mechanical ventilators for two million people; the Central African Republic has three ventilators for a country of five million; and Burkina Faso has a grand total of 12 critical care beds for its 20 million citizens.

We can hope that a younger demographic in most of these countries will help mitigate the effect of COVID-19. But many already suffer from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, various non-communicable diseases, and infections such as cholera, measles, or malaria. Catching COVID-19 on top of these may prove to be a deadly combination.

For now, the working assumption is that the pattern of severe infection will at least match that seen in Asia and Europe: 80 percent may not require hospitalisation, but some 20 percent will. Most of the latter will need oxygen therapy, and a full quarter of them – mechanical ventilation. For those without such care, death by asphyxiation is all but inevitable.

Oxygen and ventilators will be the dividing line between the north and south, just as access to antiretrovirals drugs (ARVs) were at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1990s. For years, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) scaled-up ARV treatment projects in South Africa to demonstrate that this divide was neither necessary nor acceptable.AMIBC® - VOTE! BE COUNTED! BE HEARD!

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