By Haruna Gimba
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says it has sent 100, 000 syringes to the Maldives, ahead of an inoculation drive and critical task of ensuring that all countries have enough medical equipment to vaccinate people safely against COVID-19.
The shipment is part of ‘the first wave’ of syringes and safety boxes organised by the agency, which over the next few weeks, plans to dispatch more than 14.5 million single-use needles to more than 30 countries, including Côte d’Ivoire and the São Tomé and Principe.
These include the 0.5 millilitre syringes which are meant for use with the AstraZeneca vaccine, while the 0.3 millilitre version is for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.
In total, UNICEF aims to supply up to one billion syringes and 10 million safety boxes to countries in 2021, ahead of the broader rollout of new coronavirus vaccines in 82 low and low-to-middle income countries.
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, said in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, syringes are as vital as the vaccine itself.
“It is critical to have adequate supplies of syringes already in place in every country before the vaccine arrives so that the vaccine can be administered safely. This would allow immunization to start immediately and help turn the tide on this terrible virus,” she said.
Oxygen shortage hits 500,000
Meanwhile, the United Nations is warning that COVID-19 has left more than half a million people around the world without enough oxygen canisters to help them breathe more easily while fighting the infection.
According to the UN-launched international drug purchasing facility, UNITAID, demand in low and middle-income countries has spiked because of the virus – although the problem pre-dates the coronavirus because of cost and logistical barriers.
To respond to the emergency, a COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce has been launched to supply oxygen in up to 20 countries, including Malawi, Nigeria and Afghanistan.
Its part of the UN and partner-led COVAX initiative to protect people from COVID-19 worldwide and it needs $1.6 billion in funding over the next 12 months.
UNITAID spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel, said that since the start of the pandemic nearly a year ago, affordable and sustainable access to oxygen has been a growing challenge, in low and middle income countries, “while COVID-19 has put huge pressure on health systems, with hospitals in many low and middle-income countries running out of oxygen, resulting in preventable deaths.”
Mr. Verhoosel said that 1.1 million cylinders of oxygen are needed every day, while 25 countries have reported surging demand, the majority of which are in Africa.