It was media company CEO Gerhard Gschwandtner who said, “problems are nothing but wake-up calls for creativity”. And this was clearly evident, when in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic South African creativity and technology came to the fore.
Medical ventilators have been part of the pandemic narrative globally, with discussions from available quantities in hospitals to misinformation about patient reliance on the machines only leading to death from COVID-19. It was then that The National Ventilator Project (NVP), a joint initiative between government and business, was established with the aim to building 20,000 non-invasive ventilators last year. Through research it was discovered that only a small number of patients required the full ventilator and ICU care, while the rest of those admitted were able regain lung capacity with just an oxygen mask. But in-between these two were a group of those with moderate symptoms who required something more than an oxygen mask but nothing as invasive as the full ventilator.
The South African government tasked scientist, technologist, and leader of the South African (NVP), Professor Justin Jonas and his team were tasked with developing a ventilator for this group of individuals. The perfect solution was the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) ventilator unit.
The team set out to produce a clinically-approved standard design that was 100 percent locally manufactured in South Africa. Within a few months, the team delivered exactly that at a fraction of the cost of invasive ventilators, which cost around R1 million. The CPAP that was locally manufactured cost just R12 500 and was a simple design that didn’t need highly skilled personnel operation.
The NVP is not just good news for hospitals and patients who so desperately needed the assistance, but also for manufacturing in South Africa. The project is proof enough that South Africa is well equipped to locally produce and manufacture products for the healthcare sector without relying on overseas imports.