The first batch of protective and medical equipment donated by Chinese billionaire and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma was flown into the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Sunday, as coronavirus cases in Africa rose above 1,100.
The virus has spread more slowly in Africa than in Asia or Europe but has a foothold in 41 African nations and two territories. So far it has claimed 37 lives across the continent of 1.3 billion people.
The shipment is a much-needed boost to African healthcare systems that were already stretched before the coronavirus crisis, but nations will still need to ration supplies at a time of global scarcity.
Only patients showing symptoms will be tested, the regional Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said on Sunday.
“The flight carried 5.4 million face masks, kits for 1.08 million detection tests, 40,000 sets of protective clothing and 60,000 sets of protective face shields,” Ma’s foundation said in a statement.
“The faster we move, the earlier we can help.”
The shipment had a sign attached with the slogan, “when people are determined they can overcome anything”.
The supplies will be distributed across Africa, with countries particularly “vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic” to receive theirs first, the statement said, adding that more supplies will be sent to Ethiopia in the coming weeks.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Twitter that the distribution of supplies will start on Monday.
The ability to test for the virus is one of the key strategies to control the outbreak, Ethiopia health minister Lia Tadesse told reporters, hailing the aid initiative at a ceremony to receive the supplies.
Africa CDC warned that some coronavirus cases may be slipping through undetected.
“More kits does not necessarily mean more tests. Tests are conducted on persons suspected to be infected,” Africa CDC spokesman James Ayodele told Reuters.