Frontline warriors prep up for Covid-19 vaccine delivery
While the continent is witnessing a dramatic rise in the number of people living on the brink of starvation due to the Islamist violence, on the other hand, Covid-19 infection is moving at an alarming rate.
While the continent is witnessing a dramatic rise in the number of people living on the brink of starvation due to the Islamist violence, on the other hand, Covid-19 infection is moving at an alarming rate. However, the vital concern is how to curb the pandemic. With current cold chain capacity globally, only 20 countries will have the capability to adequately store and administer an early-stage Covid-19 vaccine. In response to the pandemic, airlines, non-profit organisations, among others are working together to identify potential hurdles for delivery of vaccines across Africa, once it is out.
â€œWhere there is conflict, there is hunger. This award is a reminder that food security, peace and stability go together.â€ That is how the World Food Programme (WFP) responded in a tweet when the United Nations agency was awarded this yearâ€™s Nobel Peace Prize in October.
The Islamist violence, which has displaced 600,000 people across the continent as per UNHCR (UN refugee agency) report, led to a dramatic rise in the number of people living on the brink of starvation, leaving them homeless. Additionally, the current pandemic is a matter of grave concern. As WFP itself has stated, â€œUntil the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.â€
UNICEF handles thousands of tonnes of supplies to Africa annually, both by air and sea, in support of regular programme activities and rapid emergency interventions. Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, emergency supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE), oxygen concentrators and related supplies have also been airlifted, either directly from supply sources or through strategic emergency hubs. UNICEF has shipped $170.5 million worth of Covid-19 supplies in support of 133 countries since the start of the outbreak.
A UNICEF shipment of 63 cubic metres of vital health supplies arrives in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on a Belgian repatriation flight co-financed by the European Union in 2020. Photo: UNICEF
A spokesperson from the UNICEFâ€™s Supply Division notes, â€œIn addition to our ongoing emergency response operations, there is currently a lot of focus on the supply planning for the potential Covid-19 vaccine through the COVAX Facility. Once the vaccine is found, a large number of doses will be dedicated to Africa, where many of the 92 COVAX Facility participating lower-middle and low-income economies are located. This intervention will require what is likely to be the largest cold chain air bridge to Africa ever seen. It will involve all major airlines and charter companies operating in the region. Consultations on the international logistics are well underway, including the airline industry, supported by IATA, as well as contracted freight forwarders.â€
In response to the pandemic, Airlink has moved more than 75 tonnes of supplies across 20 shipments to 9 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. This includes a large amount of PPE, but shipments also included soaps and other hygiene supplies, X-ray machines, pulse oximeters, oxygen concentrators, other respiratory support equipment and general medical supplies.
Once the vaccine is found, a large number of doses will be dedicated to Africa, where many of the 92 COVAX Facility participating lower-middle and low-income economies are located.
UNICEF Supply Division
Steven J Smith, president & CEO, Airlink, states, â€œWe have several shipments in the pipeline to countries in Central and West Africa, including movements to the DRC, Burundi, and Sierra Leone. As we move towards production of a potential vaccine, equitable access to Covid-19 immunisation is a significant concern to Airlink and much of the humanitarian community. An estimated 70 percent of the global population will need a vaccine within a tight timeframe - approximately a few months to a year. However, with current cold chain capacity globally, only 20 countries will have the capability to adequately store and administer an early-stage Covid-19 vaccine. Almost all of these countries are in North America and Europe. With this situation in mind, Airlink is currently researching with its nonprofit and airline partners the potential hurdles to delivery - for instance, a stable and reliable temperature-controlled supply chain in many countries across Africa.â€
Nairobi-based cargo airline Astral Aviation is working on a repeat charter for over 100 tonnes of PPEs which involves B747F and a B787 passenger freighter from Guangzhou to Nairobi for an onward connection on B727F from Nairobi to Juba. Recently, the carrier has transported testing kits from Guangzhou to 44 countries in Africa via Nairobi in association with DHL.
Sanjeev Gadhia, founder & CEO of Astral Aviation, says, â€œWe are confident that we will be able to take on the task of transporting the Covid-19 vaccine in 2021/22 in Africa as our experience in performing humanitarian flights will put us to the test of performing the most complex airfreight programme in the world.â€
Meanwhile, Ethiopian Airlines operated the 40th humanitarian flight with Boeing carrying more than 20,000 pounds of supplies from Spain to Addis Ababa in October. The carrier operated more than 400 flights during Covid-19 and transported about 50,000 tonnes including humanitarian shipments. On the other hand, Ethiopian Airlines has taken delivery of new A350 aircraft from Airbus facility in Toulouse, France on October 30. For the ferry flight of A350, the Airbus Foundation has prepared up to 4 tonnes of medical equipment. The equipment was provided by the Airbus Foundation partner association called â€˜Aviation without Bordersâ€™ which consisted of hospital beds, wheelchairs, and walkers, among others.
We are confident that we will be able to take on the task of transporting the Covid-19 vaccine in 2021/22 in Africa
Sanjeev Gadhia, Astral Aviation
Fitsum Abadi, managing director, Ethiopian Cargo & Logistics Services, adds, â€œWe cannot predict when supplies may be available, but we are always open to working with our customers and other agencies. Besides the Humanitarian Delivery Flight programme, Boeing has made charitable investments in Africa this year of nearly $1 million across eight countries.â€
The Humanitarian Delivery Flight programme is a collaborative effort involving Boeing, its airline customers and US non-profit and international non-governmental organisations to deliver humanitarian aid onboard newly delivered Boeing aircraft.
Omar Arekat, vice president, sales and marketing, Middle East, Turkey & Africa, The Boeing Company, says, â€œThe programme has transported more than 1.6 million pounds (approx. 866 tonnes) of supplies since 1992, with more than 571,000 pounds (approx. 285 tonnes) going to Africa. Boeing has partnered with 12 airline customers on humanitarian deliveries to Africa.â€
In 2020, Airbus Foundation together with the French Red Cross (FRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has flown a medical team and 14 tonnes of humanitarian aid to the DRC, using an A330neo test aircraft. â€œThe cargo will help in the fight against both the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ebola crisis in DRC. We supported our partner Kenya Red Cross during a relief mission to flood-impacted Pakaso village with our H125 helicopter,â€ states an Airbus Foundation spokesperson.
Technology has truly powered the pandemic response. A cohesive response like the one that the humanitarian community has put together this year would not have been possible in the past few decades.
UNICEF deputy representative in Uganda, Noreen Prendiville; and UNICEF Uganda supply manager, Jon Blasco, check boxes containing bivalent oral polio vaccines (bOPV) at the Entebbe International Airport in 2020. Photo: UNICEF
UNICEF spokesperson, states, â€œTo perform timely receipt of shipments and inventory management at country level, UNICEF developed a Mobile Warehouse and Inventory Management Solution (mWIMS) app that operates online and offline and synchronises information within the UNICEF global data management system. The app was used during the aftermath of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Mozambique in 2019. This sped up decision making and overall operation management considerably. To provide interactive visualisations with a simple interface for end-users to create their reports and dashboards, UNICEF also developed various targeted dashboards using Power BI.â€
Drones have become a common sight during the pandemic and are getting due recognition for delivering cargo in Africa.
Commenting on this transformative technology, UNICEF spokesperson says, â€œThis technology has the potential to improve the way we operate and support governments in last-mile logistics, emergency preparedness, and disaster response. So far, 18 countries have deployed drones for delivery and transportation purposes during the Covid-19 pandemic. Three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, namely Rwanda, Ghana and Malawi, reported the use of drones to deliver regular medical commodities, Covid-19 supplies and medical samples since the beginning of the pandemic. All three of the countries already had drone operations before the pandemic.â€
Patrick Meier, co-founder & CEO, WeRobotics, observes, â€œWhile considering to operating drones, there is a very long list which indeed includes the cold chain, logistics handling, training drone pilots, selecting appropriate technology, securing flight permissions from CAA, import of the technology and identifying compelling use-cases in the first place.â€
While planning to operate humanitarian flight higher level of communication and coordination is needed including extended working hours, sufficient capacity allocation, route planning, crew planning and other necessary resources.
Besides the Humanitarian Delivery Flight programme, Boeing has made charitable investments in Africa this year of nearly $1 million across eight countries
Fitsum Abadi, Ethiopian Cargo and Logistics Services
Gadhia observes, â€œWe assign a member of our charter team to accompany every flight to ensure that the pre-flight and post-flight coordination is done smoothly as there are numerous interactions with the cargo handlers which cannot be done by the crew. We take responsibility at the destination to ensure that the cargo has been accounted for, instead of just offloading the cargo and departing. This reduces the claims that may arise and a high level of transparency is provided.â€
In its role as a convener of nonprofit organisations, Airlink facilitates collaboration within the humanitarian sector in preparation for disasters, including throughout Covid-19.
Smith comments, â€œThe Airlink team, in consultation with airlines and freight forwarding partners, provide annual training sessions to its NGO partners and their local offices on airfreight, documentation, and even specific areas like dangerous goods awareness and customs clearance. Airlinkâ€™s Air Logistics Preparedness Guidance Note, a ten-step guide for nonprofits sending humanitarian aid supplies in emergencies, is one example of the training materials we provide to our partners.â€
Over the several weeks of Covid-19, hitting the reset button and by embracing the new normal, UAE-based Global Service Solutions, a charter specialist, has utilised its fleet of Boeing 747-200 and other cargo aircrafts to carry masks and relief goods to Africa. The company has recently operated a flight from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport to Nairobi.
Manoj Ajwani, chief operating officer at GSS, says, â€œWe have loaded approximately 90 tonnes in each flight from several Chinese airports, including Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport to different airports in Africa (FÃ©lix-HouphouÃ«t-Boigny International Airport - Abidjan, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport â€“ Nairobi, Aden Adde International Airport â€“Somalia, and Modibo Keita International Airport - Bamako. GSS has already scheduled more upcoming flights from China to different parts of the world while participating in supplying thousands of medical supplies globally.â€
GSS has been working with various humanitarian organisations across the globe, including WHO. Few operations in Africa include flights to Yemenâ€™s Sanaa International Airport and Aden International Airport.
The WFP has within Dubai International Humanitarian City (IHC) a large presence of more than 130 staff members. In close cooperation with WHO, a triennium project has been developed and accomplished in less than six months. IHC increased more than 17,000 pallet positions in areas under temperature control, built a block of 8 cold rooms for vaccines and medicines and a semi-automated kitting canter for assembling medical kits, hygiene kits etc.
Former WFP employee and CEO of IHC, Giuseppe Saba, says that the organisation assisted to the collapse of the supply chain and without the help of governments, military assets or large companies it was impossible to reach the most vulnerable populations. â€œWe set a humanitarian logistics data bank. The aim of which is to embrace other â€˜sisters humanitarian citiesâ€™ with which we are networking and cooperating. We are creating new models and we would like to replicate and share those models, thus enabling all humanitarian hubs to stay connected as One Network and Working for One Humanity.â€
To secure the delivery of life-saving supplies and to avoid disruptions in the routine immunisation programme for children, UNICEF for the first time pooled vaccine shipments into single, multi-stop charter flights to deliver vaccines to eight countries in West Africa. This novel approach was not only more cost-effective, but it supported access to vaccines in countries that would otherwise be difficult to reach due to lockdowns. â€œThis approach will be used again for the implementation of regional logistics operations within the COVAX operations,â€ UNICEF spokesperson concludes.
In the past 20 years, Astral has flown an excess of 2,000 flights with an estimated 30,000 tonnes of cargo that has been uplifted to and within Africa in addition to Yemen, where Astral has performed the largest number of humanitarian flights since the outbreak of war. Humanitarian flights account for 25 percent of its business.
At present, Airlink is asking airlines around the world, including both current and prospective partners, to sign onto one or more Regional Response Plans. â€œQatar Airways is an excellent example of this, and their commitment of 200 tonnes of capacity over two years through the We Qare programme. Currently, United Airlines is working to grow its service to Sub-Saharan Africa. It has also been supporting Airlink for several years through the provision of passenger tickets, free-of-charge cargo space, and even operating capital to power our team, who makes possible the cargo movements, passenger deployments, and knowledge and capacity building, that helps communities in crisis year around,â€ notes Smith.
The Airbus Foundation has handled more than 1,000 tonnes globally, of which around 300 tonnes was carried to Africa. Major airlines such as South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Air CÃ´te d'Ivoire, Air Senegal, and Air Mauritius have joined forces with Airbus and its partners. Furthermore, the foundation has donated almost 300 humanitarian flight hours to African helicopter operators.
IHC is the largest humanitarian hub in the world, set in more than 135,000 square metres mainly dedicated to â€˜Emergency Preparedness & Responseâ€™ from Dubai, which is located geographically to serve two-thirds of the world population in a few hours flight. Those two-third are living in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, which are prone to tsunamis, earthquake, floods, cyclones, fire-forest, droughts, volcano eruptions, in addition to the conflict zones. In addition to Covid-19 in 2020, IHC served Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, several airlifts into Sudan due to natural disasters or movement of population in the Sahel. The organisation has worked with Ethiopian Airlines and Emirates SkyCargo into the African continent.