According to various reports, South Africa had fewer than 6 000 ventilators when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country. Of the total number of ventilators, two-thirds were reported to be in private hospitals thus leaving public hospitals to share the remaining one-third.
Businesses, public entities and Institutions of Higher Learning responded to the challenge and played their different roles to ensure critical equipment was available in adequate supply to help fight the pandemic.
The CSIR, together with University of Cape Town (UCT) and other partners, designed and manufactured Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices for non-invasive ventilators. Denel collaborated with private businesses, including local suppliers, for the National Ventilator Project (NVP). A University of Johannesburg (UJ)’s multidisciplinary team of engineers and healthcare practitioners also entered the fray, to support critical care technology development in response to the pandemic. Of note was their efforts related to ventilators.
Other efforts were directed to items like masks, thermometers, and face shields among others. Though infrared thermometers existed prior to the pandemic in SA, the CSIR and others were meritorious in ramping up production to ensure demand was satisfied. Infrared thermometers allow temperatures to be checked from a safe distance.
The above examples are certainly not exhaustive. Many companies keenly responded to the call to play their part to fight the coronavirus transmissions. Tailor-made alterations like foot-operated sanitiser dispensers and desk shields are seen in many workplaces to ensure curbing of transmissions through keeping surface contacts to a minimum.
According to the Department of Trade and Industry, 20 000 non-invasive ventilators from NVP were completed and delivered to healthcare facilities earlier in December 2020. Also, for the first time during the pandemic, the country benefited from wider distribution of face shields as scalability and innovations took centre stage in the fight against Covid-19.
Items like ventilators would ordinarily be imported from other countries, but South Africans jumped on board with this ventilator and other projects. While some skills were imported, seemingly to augment our own, our engineers and other professionals can be proud of our continuing output underpinned by exceptional turnaround times in some instances.