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Africa’s PPE portal expands, secures Gates Foundation partnership

By , IT in government editor
Africa , 20 Jul 2020

One month after its debut, Africa’s COVID-19 supplies online marketplace has expanded supply and experienced a surge in demand for medical supplies from the African Union (AU) member states.

This was revealed by Strive Masiyiwa, founder and executive chairman of Econet Group and AU special envoy, briefing president Cyril Ramaphosa and AU chairperson on the platform’s progress thus far.

Dubbed the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), the online portal is an AU continental strategy, to address the growing need for personal protective equipment (PPE). It enables all 55 AU member states to purchase in-demand supplies, such as PPEs, clinical management devices, hand sanitisers and diagnostic kits, to name a few.

As of 19 July, 54 of the AU member states had a total of 701 711 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 369 221 recoveries and 14 938 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

Masiyiwa, whose idea it was to develop the AMSP following his appointment to assist the continent-sourced PPEs, indicated the UNICEF catalogue is now listed and purchasable on the platform, while applications from vendors of medical suppliers have increased threefold from the time of launch.

“Mr President, l am pleased to report that the platform has proved popular with suppliers and is receiving applications from an average of 40 new vendors per day,” he says.

The Zimbabwean businessman added that demand for medical supplies on the platform is high and included member states of the AU, leading international non-governmental organisations, as well as international and African foundations.

“We are also zeroing in on ensuring we expand access of our platform to hospitals and local authorities approved by their governments of member states. We believe this will help to ensure critical supplies are available at the hospital-level in a speedy and timely fashion.”

Furthermore, the platform has received international recognition, with member states of the Caribbean Community joining it to access critical medical supplies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, he indicated.

Gates Foundation buy-in

Following Ramaphosa’s instruction to add promising pharmaceutical products to the platform that might be helpful to doctors, the AMSP team managed to get buy-in from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to secure drugs for recovery treatment.

“…the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed to joining our initiative to secure a drug called dexamethasone, which is being used to treat COVID-19 in hospitals in the US and Europe on very sick patients following the results of the recovery trial.

“The trial demonstrated significant reduction of mortality, saving lives that we couldn’t save without this intervention. About one million people will benefit from the drug, equivalent to nine million tablets, which will be distributed proportionately for free to all countries that are interested in its use,” notes Masiyiwa.

The Gates Foundation’s Africa director, Cheikh Oumar Seydi, adds: “The Gates Foundation gladly supports this initiative of the Africa Medical Supplies Platform to bring COVID-19 treatments to the African people. We have a shared belief that access to lifesaving tools should not be dependent on ability to pay.”

In addition, the Africa CDC has secured $15 million from the MasterCard Foundation, which has been used to buy PCR test kits through the platform.

“These tests will support our partnership to accelerate the COVID-19 testing initiative that was launched a few weeks ago,” according to Dr John Nkengasong, executive director of the Africa CDC.

The donations of both dexamethasone and test kits will be distributed for free to AU member states, once they register on the platform so as to confirm their allocation and arrange delivery, states Masiyiwa.

“In addition to our efforts securing the best drugs on the platform, we are preparing to become a critical player in how oxygen supplies, monoclonal antibodies and vaccines are accessible on the continent when it is globally available.”

Local is lekker

Meanwhile, SA is also makingstrides in the ventilator production space, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the country.

On Friday, trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel confirmed that South African-made ventilators have gone into production, describing this as a first for the African continent.

The ventilators will complement the existing stock in the public and private healthcare industry and additional purchases of ventilators from global manufacturers, and donations received from other countries, he said.

“Given the enormous global shortage of ventilators, a few months ago we started the National Ventilator Project (NVP), with the aim of rapidly facilitating local development and manufacturing of thousands of non-invasive ventilators.”

According to Patel, the development follows an intense few months during which prototypes were designed, developed and tested, while adhering to very strict technical and safety specifications.

The minister initiated the NVP in April, together with minister of higher education, science and innovation Dr Blade Nzimande, appointing the South African Radio Astronomy Organisation (SARAO) to serve as project manager.

SARAO, which is responsible for the Square Kilometre Array radio-astronomy project, put together an experienced team led by professor Rob Adam, to manage the process.

Approval for the ventilators was given by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, which conducts stringent testing to ensure compliance with the highest levels of safety.

Patel said the NVP is a great example of innovation and partnerships between relevant stakeholders.

“With prototypes approved, funding raised and component supply lines secured, manufacturing has begun. The project has also identified that we have the industrial capacity to scale up production for exporting ventilators to other African countries should the need arise.”

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