Ventilators to breathe new life into SA industry

patel
A breath of fresh air from Minister Ebrahim Patel

By John Fraser

When the C19 virus first flew into SA, we had no industry producing medical ventilators.   Trade Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel says we will soon be making 20 000 a month. 

Although he declined to name them in a media briefing, Friday, he said that three local producers have been chosen, following an extensive selection process, which involved ensuring that the devices can be used as safely as imported units.

“Production is starting in June,”  he said.   “And we will reach 20 000 by August if all goes well.

“SA’s National Ventilator Project was launched in April, when we found the global market was depleted and prices were rising.”

Patel said there was a really strong outpouring of support from car component manufacturers, appliance manufacturers, as well as innovators and science councils.

As well as meeting high standards, the ventilators must be flexible for use in field hospitals, as well, and must be affordable.

“Normally it takes 3 years to ramp up,” said Patel.  “We seek to reduce it to 3 months, with full-on production in July.”

The Solidarity Fund has been used to buy masks and has also provided seed funding for the ventilator initiative.    It is looking, with other funders, to make a purchase order to the order of 20 000 units.

The Treasury is being asked to fund additional purchases – and the aim is for the manufacturers to permanently stay in business and to start to export.

“As the disease ramps up, we are looking at producing more ventilators,” said Patel, suggesting this presents a big manufacturing opportunity.

Meanwhile, the local manufacturing sector has been producing high-quality medical masks.

Some 25m will have been made in May.  By the end of June, the output will jump to 1m a day.

Ford is producing face shields – supplied free of charge to the public sector.

Sasol is devoting its entire ethanol production for hand sanitiser, which is also being produced by some of the larger alcohol producers.

Patel said SA is already supplying PPE to neighbouring countries and rest of the Continent, and this will grow.

“We must ensure the infection does not spread across the region, and we need to show social solidarity,” he said.

“Africa must have the capacity to produce, and must never again be subjected to the shortages we have seen.    Already, 150m litres of sanitiser has been exported from SA to elsewhere in the Continent. ”

Millions of face masks have also been sent to health-care workers in neighbouring countries.

This export drive presents a big future opportunity for SA firms, which will be entrenched once the African Continental Free Trade Area is implemented.   It is delayed by the C19 virus, but efforts are underway to set a new launch date.

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