African and global philanthropists have teamed up to help African nations secure urgently needed ventilators, breathing support devices and other medical equipment, in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Strive Masiyiwa, co-founder of Higherlife Foundation, who has recently been appointed as an African Union Special Envoy to mobilise the private sector response to COVID-19, is leading a private partnership to start local manufacturing of the equipment. Working with fellow philanthropists Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Skoll, the group have identified two solutions which will be manufactured in South Africa.
The initiative will start with the production of 1,000 bridge ventilators, a design that was provided to this partnership for free by Virgin Orbit and has recently received emergency use authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is designed with a price significantly lower than a normal ventilator.
The partners are also in discussions with Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company regarding the oxygen helmet prototype produced in partnership with NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, and the Aerospace Valley Task Force in California, pending a grant of emergency use authorization by the US FDA. Oxygen helmets help open up the alveoli in the lungs, and delay or prevent Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).
"We have found a major South African company called Invicta Holdings that can mass produce these bridge ventilators and oxygen helmets. Any country that wants them can buy them at cost from that company," said Masiyiwa, founder and Group Chairman of Econet Global. "This is a not-for-profit venture for us as philanthropists".
The philanthropists have come together to secure initial orders, ensuring that the devices can quickly reach healthcare professionals across the continent to save lives. This will be the first of many innovations that will be locally manufactured in Africa to serve the needs of over 1.2 billion people facing the onslaught of this pandemic.
Masiyiwa has also pulled together a team to build an online platform to manage global procurement of medical equipment, including PPE. To be launched in partnership with the Africa CDC before the end of May, it will play a critical role in supply management, with Invicta one of many manufacturers who has agreed to sell medical equipment through this platform.
Branson, whose companies developed the ventilator and oxygen helmets as part of their philanthropic efforts to support the global COVID-19 response, has a deep and long relationship with Africa.
"We've been honoured to work in partnership with Strive, Jeff and the team at Invicta to get much needed bridge ventilators and oxygen helmets to countries across Africa," Branson said.
"I'm so proud of the teams at Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic who immediately pivoted their engineering expertise to create low-cost, innovative solutions to save lives. Our foundation, Virgin Unite, will continue to support this partnership and work with its other partners, like Last Mile Health who are mobilising thousands of community health workers, to do what we can to help flatten the curve in Africa."
In 2014-16, the African Union in partnership with a range of global organisations, successfully led the response to Ebola in West Africa, stopping it from taking millions of lives and spreading to the rest of the world. Its expertise will be critical in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and in strengthening health systems across the continent.
Founded by Jeff Skoll, the California-based Skoll Foundation has committed to expanding its giving to $200m to fight COVID-19 and its impacts. Skoll's first COVID-19 grants were directed to the African continent in early February to assist with pandemic preparedness and response. A full list of Skoll's grants to date are available here.
Skoll said, "The global scope of this pandemic requires an urgent and coordinated response. This is a tangible example of how working together gets us farther, faster on behalf of those who deserve access to PPE and assistive breathing devices but have been boxed out of the global purchasing markets. We consider it an honour to work with Strive, Richard, and the Africa CDC on this effort."
Gavin Pelser, Director of Invicta Holdings and CEO of Engineering Solutions Group shared, "Invicta Holdings Chairman, Dr Christo Wiese, has personally committed to various initiatives with the objective of minimising the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential devastating outcome on the people of Africa. Dr Wiese is proud to be part of this great initiative, working with Richard, Strive and Jeff to procure specialized equipment designed by the best engineers in the world from Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic. Invicta will deliver high quality manufacturing of this world-class product in Africa for the people of Africa."