SA made 20,000 ventilators for Covid-19 patients at a cost of R250m

The ventilators were manufactured to treat patients in severe respiratory distress. Stock photo.
The ventilators were manufactured to treat patients in severe respiratory distress. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Yuriy Klochan

SA has locally produced 20,000 ventilators — later than initially anticipated — at an average cost of R12,500 each for Covid-19 patients.

Trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel said the machines were manufactured under the national ventilator project (NVP) during the national state of disaster by the state-owned Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the SA Ventilator Emergency Project (SAVE-P) — a consortium of companies.

Patel was responding to a written question posed by EFF deputy leader Floyd Shivambu in the National Assembly. Shivambu previously called on social media for evidence to back up claims by President Cyril Ramaphosa that 20,000 ventilators had been manufactured.

The non-invasive ventilators use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to force air into the lungs of a patient. The Sunday Times reported in July that the project had experienced delays. In May, the department of trade & industry said it expected delivery of 20,000 ventilators in the first week of July.

Patel said in his written response, dated December 15 on the parliamentary website, that production of the machines in fact began in July and the final units were completed in November.

A contract with the CSIR saw 18,000 Venturi-type CPAP devices manufactured and an additional 2,000 blender-type CPAP devices were manufactured by SAVE-P.

“The CSIR ventilator systems were assembled and packaged by Akacia Medical in the Western Cape,” said Patel.

“Individual components for the CPAP-ventilator were manufactured by a consortium of industry partners in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, including the Central University of Technology and firms such as Black Capital Systems, Andani Futuretech Manufacturing, UV Tooling, Sola Medical, Gabler Medical and Pitchline Engineering. All manufacturing was done for the CSIR.

“The SAVE-P consortium incorporates manufacturers located in Cape Town, Pinetown, Durban, Midrand, and Alberton, consisting of MCR Manufacturing, Reef Engineering, Bosch, Executive Engineering, Rhomberg Instruments, Dowclay Products, ISO Health SA, Pegasus Steel, NAACAM, AFRIT, Corruseal, New Age Medical Supplies, Aveti and Non-Ferrous Metal Works.”

The development, production and procurement costs for the 20,000 units were funded through a R250m donation from the Solidarity Fund, at an average cost of R12,500 per unit.

“The SA Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) was appointed to manage the national effort to design, develop and produce the respiratory ventilators to support the government’s response to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Engineers at SARAO have experience and a track record in developing and execution of complex systems within short time frames. They developed the MeerKAT radio telescope system in the Karoo, the precursor to the SKA,” said Patel.

Clinical trials were conducted on both types of device at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.

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