Follow-Up to post on critical resources needed in Africa:
Updated: Sep 23
For landlocked, low-resource countries in West Africa, the novel Coronavirus may hit hard, and without any relief from what little resources are left, given the already-pressing demand in more developed, strategic nations. Countries like Mali-countries with less resource, lack of infrastructure, and poor governments-are so devastatingly unequipped to deal with the novel Coronavirus. Al-Jazeera, TIME, and Le Monde are not the only journals to make note of how unequipped the entire African continent seems in the face of the pandemic. But rather than pointing inwards towards countries who may be hit hardest by illness and the confounding realities that may surface as COVID-19 spreads, we should be talking about all the external, systematic structures that are inevitably making it impossible for these very countries to access resources, even if they tried.
What hasn’t been talked about as much is the supply chain and how the scramble for goods means that low-resource areas with less government contacts and less access to funds to buy out or bid on resources are out of luck.Traditional postal services like DHL, UPS, and USPS claim to remain open as an essential business, yet they have not maximized their capacity in delivering essential supplies delivered. To ship 150 reels of PLA plastic filament for our 3D printers, for instance, it would cost us $2,896.91 to go through traditional, commercial means of shipping. Why is there such a high surcharge during such an urgent time?
Even localized manufacturing solutions, like our initiatives at COVID Mali, that could potentially save low-resource, landlocked settings like Mali from falling through the cracks of their own broken health systems, supply chains are making it impossibly difficult for shipping with pricey shipping surcharges and long wait times.
Let’s understand a bit more about realistically shipping on a flight or ship:
Underneath most all commercial flights is space for cargo. In fact, 45% of all cargo is shipped via commercial planes. Since the beginning of the Coronavirus, this figure has decreased by 23%. Despite supply of ships going down with the demand of commercial flights plummeting, there is actually an increase in demand of certain supplies, such as medical equipment and most specifically protective personal equipment (PPE). In China for instance, the top medical manufacturer in the world, the country increased their national production of 20 million medical masks per day to 100 million since the beginning of COVID-19. Nevertheless, the price increases for air cargo with the wide mismatch in supply and demand equilibrium of more than 8%. This may be one reason why we are seeing skyrocketing shipping prices at companies like DHL.
So now, let’s look at commercial airlines and their cargo equivalents. For AirFrance, for instance, frequency of flights has decreased by 90%. This is a similar story for Kenyan Airways and Ethiopian Airways. When turning to there cargo counterparts (i.e. AirFrance Cargo and Ethiopian Cargo), it is nearly impossible for a startup like COVID Mali to ship essential supplies. It is a long process to register with IATA (International Air Travel Association), not to mention we may not qualify given rules and restrictions reserved for IATA registration-holders. Most governments and state officials are ordering shipments through freight forwarders like UPS, FedEx, Expeditors, or Kuehnegal, not through cargo airways.
Cargo AirFrance: Cargo flights being flown 2-3 per week for the next couple of months to Bamako. However, it is not possible for an individual or individual company as ourselves to ship anything on an AirFrance cargo flight. They do not do company to company orders without having companies registered with an IATA (international air travel association) account. This is a long, complicated process. You must have an IATA account and be licensed with TSA forwarding procedures to help expedite your shipping/having customs document at port of origin. It's much more likely that governments and state officials are ordering shipments through freight forwarders, including UPS, FedEx, Expeditors, DHL, CVA, Kuehnenagel.
With the beginning of COVID, we are falling into the same practice of heavy reliance on
aid/international development, as we see phrases like “stockpiling of PPE” or “heavy
procurement of PPE from abroad” or “increase in manufacturing and preventing poor
governments of being outbidded”. All these logistical inequalities could be prevented right from the start if locally-sourced manufacturing was just in our minds more. If we focused more on what’s available at home (if permissible) or stockpiling of raw materials, we would think that the procurement of this would be much simpler than stockpiling finished, finely-tuned gloves or sanitizer. This pandemic is evidence that the supply chain was not set up to provide resources to the most vulnerable, even during a time of crisis. We must work to make additive manufacturing, localized solutions, and makerspace accessibility a reality for local communities to have access to early on. COVID-19 will continue to re-appear in various forms, whether it comes as another pandemic or whether it be a civil war, migration & displacement, poor government, and other factors that need localized, on-the-ground solutions- not anymore heavy reliance on donated handouts. We should also consider that what’s more likely to cause detrimental effects to the most vulnerable populations is not necessarily Coronavirus but all other inextricable links that come with instability, insecurity, and a looming threat of a pandemic that is likely to destroy livelihoods in countries like Mali. Already in Ivory Coast there is disarray in the streets due to stigma surrounding the virus and also community resistance in light of the coronavirus response- there is lack of trust in authorities, health systems, etc. communities cannot rely on. Food shortages are also beginning to occur across the African continent. As we work to build systems that are reliable, sustainable, and of high quality, we must not forget that many countries are only just beginning to experience the overbearing threat of the COVID pandemic. We must continue to act with urgency to respond to the crisis in West Africa, and particularly in Mali.