OPINION: Africa Has Less Than 2,000 Ventilators — Airline Subsidies Shouldn’t Be A Priority
In the United States, the government has spent billions to provide loans and grants to struggling airlines. Some countries are getting creative by considering handing out stimulus vouchers to citizens for domestic travel. Now, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling out Middle East and African countries for failing to prioritize airline subsidies.
IATA’s Vice President for Africa and the Middle East said, “We have not seen the desired movements and decisions of governments and decision makers to…put on the table the economic stimulation packages and the rescue packages, financial packages necessary to keep the airlines in the region alive.” The organization said African nations need to provide rescue packages for the airlines and aviation industry, similar to what other countries are doing.
Should This Be A Priority?
Of course, the global impact to the travel industry because of coronavirus is significant. Countries are reeling to do with the impacts. So it’s a reasonable argument to make in some cases the importance airlines play for economies around the world.
But the most shocking thing about IATA’s remarks is the fact they are telling a continent with less than 2,000 ventilators to prioritize using taxpayer money to protect airlines. Ten countries in Africa don’t even have ventilators in their possession. Keep in mind that in 2016, the population of the African continent was 1.2 billion.
Ventilators aren’t the only area where Africa is has a major shortfall. The entire continent has less than 5,000 ICU beds, which translates to five beds per one million people. As a comparison, Europe has 4,000 ICU beds per one million people. In addition, the continent has a severe lack of personal protective equipment, including surgical gloves and masks.
How Can IATA Say This?
Given all this, how can an African government sincerely prioritize money to subsidize airlines. In the case of South African Airways, mismanagement and financial problems existed far before coronavirus impacted travel. But IATA believes the government should make airline subsidy payments a priority for an airline that was grossly mismanaged. And that’s saying nothing of other African nations that are in much more dire positions with poorer economies and healthcare systems than South Africa.
It is disappointing that an international trade association would put dollars over lives, which essentially what their call leads to for Africa. Decisions will have to be made with limited resources from African governments. IATA believes those decisions should be put a priority on airline subsidies. But that comes at a cost for the health of the people in those African countries. In a world of limited resources, particularly amongst African nations with struggling health systems, that very well could lead to putting airlines over lives.
Instead, African governments must prioritize finding PPE, ventilators, oxygen, and ICU beds. Those are the priorities right now because coronavirus cases in Africa are increasing. The continent needs to take the time now to prepare for the worst, particularly as forecasts say the virus could infect ten million in six months.. Unfortunately, saving airlines shouldn’t be at the top of that priority.
It’s indisputable that airline failures impact economies. It’s indisputable that airlines throughout Africa will suffer from coronavirus. But IATA’s call is dangerous for over a billion people who call the African continent home. In a continent of limited resources and generally poor healthcare infrastructure and struggling economies, the priority must be saving lives. We know the impacts the virus has on better financed health systems. Let’s not gamble with lives and encourage African governments to prioritize subsidies over securing healthcare infrastructure.