Ethiopia hopes a gift of ventilators from the United States will help save the lives of the sickest COVID-19 patients.
U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to send the ventilators during an April 25 phone call with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. At the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak, Ethiopia had only about 450 ventilators to serve a population of more than 110 million. Health professionals worried that the nation could face a critical shortage of ventilators if the outbreak worsened. COVID-19 is the disease caused by a new coronavirus.
Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most-populous country, had reported 239 confirmed coronavirus cases, including five deaths and 99 recoveries, as of May 10.
In a tweet, Abiy said his talk with Trump was “encouraging in enhancing the continued ties between Ethiopia and the United States.”
Trump “pledged to support Ethiopia in COVID-19 prevention and mitigation efforts, as well as on desert locust control,” Abiy said.
Trump touted the supply of U.S. ventilators on Twitter and vowed to help other nations.
“It is a wonderful feeling to know that our states are loaded up with ventilators, many brand new and high quality just off of our production lines, and that we are now in a position to help other countries that so desperately need them,” Trump said.
One procurement agent contracted by the government to find 200 ventilators told Agence France-Presse that the process of fulfilling orders is complicated by coronavirus-related flight restrictions and recent price increases. Ventilators once available for about $9,000 now cost more than $20,000.
As news of the U.S. donations spread, one company, Yascai & Family PLC Ethiopia, announced plans to begin making ventilators. The 21-year-old company is known for producing labeling glue out of organic products.
“We intend to sell [them] at affordable prices,” Samuel Yitbarek, chief executive officer of Yascai & Family told The Reporter, an Ethiopian newspaper. “As Ethiopia faces shortages of foreign exchange currencies, such products are and will be needed in the weeks and months to come.”
Yitbarek was hopeful the ventilators would relieve some pressure from the government.
“We will sell them at cost and will look for partners to produce more and ensure the products perform at the top of their capabilities and help save lives,” he said. “To us, as a company, that is our ultimate goal.”
The company is “working fast” to meet World Health Organization requirements for ventilators and hopes to begin manufacturing them soon, Yitbarek said.