African nations to get 300 ventilators from Jack Ma Foundation

ADDIS ABABA, April 23 (Reuters) - African nations that lack ventilators for the treatment of COVID-19 patients will receive some from a donation of 300 supplied by the Jack Ma Foundation, the head of the continent’s disease control body said on Thursday.

John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a branch of the African Union, said last week that ten unidentified African nations were facing the pandemic without a single ventilator.

“Those countries without ventilators will be prioritized,” he told a news conference, adding that they will arrive in the coming weeks.

Ma, the Chinese billionaire founder of Alibaba Group, has donated thousands of tests kits for the new coronavirus, masks and protective gear to all African nations.

The African Union was working to set up its own joint procurement system, to facilitate market access for diagnostic and medical supplies to its member states. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven up demand for those products across the world.

“We have to recognize that we as a continent are competing for the same resources that everybody else in the world is competing for,” Nkengasong said.

He described the testing situation across Africa as “very disappointing.”

“As of this week in a continent of 1.3 billion people, just about 415 thousands tests have been conducted,” he said, urging governments to scale up testing to be ahead of the virus.

He said that in the coming months, the goal is to test 10 million people across the continent.

Africa’s 54 countries have so far reported fewer than 26,000 confirmed cases of the disease, just a fraction of the more than two million cases reported globally.

But the World Health Organization warned last week that Africa could see as many as 10 million cases in three to six months, citing its own tentative model.

The African CDC is working with governments on plans for easing the restrictions placed to slow the virus.

Two West African countries, Burkina Faso and Ghana, eased some coronavirus-related restrictions this week, to test the possibility of a return to a semblance of normality after weeks of shutdowns that have hobbled both economies. (Editing by Duncan Miriri and Alexandra Hudson)