KQ’s Mission: COVID-19 & Africa’s disease burden

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Peter Musola, Cargo Commercial Manager of Kenya Airways

Across the African continent, the lack of medical resources and personnel continues to be a major challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted businesses as governments grapple with handling the health crisis. Prior to the outbreak of the virus, Africa was already confronting one of its biggest challenges; the disease burden. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 92% of global malaria cases are in Africa and UNAIDS reports that in 2020, women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 59% of all new HIV infections. The pandemic has shown that no government, or business or philanthropist can solve these challenges alone. For Africa to chart a path to sustained response to the virus and address its disease burden, a multi-stakeholder approach based on collaboration and partnership will be required.

While strides have been made in recent years, there is more to be done to ensure we are able to meet our health needs. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the lack of funding in the health sector and has demonstrated just how much governments across the continent have had to reallocate funds from other sectors towards the emergency response. There’s no question that health care should be on everybody’s mind right now and its part of the reason why Kenya Airways’ recently unveiled a Pharma facility located at KQ Cargo Centre at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi.

The facility, which began construction prior to the global pandemic, has the capacity to handle both loose and built-up units up to 300 tonnes. In addition to this, it has a cold room with three different temperature levels and is managed by highly skilled personnel. It is also fitted with a temperature monitoring solution that collects temperature and humidity data in real-time thus enabling access on mobile devices and storage of the data. The airline is currently on the road towards attaining GDP (Good Distribution Practice) and IATA CEIV in pharmaceuticals by focusing on training, processes, documentation, and infrastructure.

While resources are incredibly crucial, the inefficient distribution of drugs across the medical supply chain is another key challenge that we face as a continent that must be addressed. From underfunding to neglect, there isn’t a robust system in place. There are options such as Kenya Airways, which is able to leverage on its fleet and network within Africa, collaborate with border agencies to facilitate priority clearance and access a wide range of regions, which is particularly relevant during health emergencies.

However, lack of established infrastructure on the continent presents logistical challenges, which means it is often difficult to access the most remote locations. In order to solve this and ensure the entire medical supply chain works efficiently and effectively, and that medical supplies can move from the airports to communities, relevant stakeholders on the continent will need to form partnerships with government, tech companies and health organisations to fill infrastructure gaps.

This has already been piloted in Rwanda, where doctors in rural areas are able to access blood and medical supplies through the use of mobile technology and drones. Kenya Airways recognises the urgency of this need and is looking to be a key partner across the entire medical delivery eco-system. As such, the airline is in the process of investing in unmanned aircraft systems and is investigating partnerships with government to map out areas that are difficult to access. This is a natural progression for the airline as over the years, KQ cargo has played an important role in medication and vaccine distribution by providing well-established, time and temperature sensitive systems. It has also put in place measures to ensure the safety and security of vaccine distribution, guaranteeing no interference at any point of the journey.

If there is anything that has been reinforced during these turbulent times, it’s the need to be agile innovative and build resilience. Kenya Airways has thus converted two passenger flights, with the fleet flying to over 40 destinations in the region in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the U.S. Kenya Airways has also recently started direct cargo flights from Mombasa to various destinations across the world. These flights are essential to the economic recovery of the region and will ensure that while we attempt to solve our health challenges, communities are able to sustain their businesses and hence, themselves.

As we look into 2021 and beyond, Kenya Airways will continue to play its role in reducing the disease burden in Africa. In addition to the physical resource and freight capabilities, KQ’s collaboration with partners such as WHO, the Government of Kenya, the Ministry of Health and big pharma, will help the continent adopt a sustainable impactful approach to reducing the disease burden.