South African Company To Supply Africa With Low-Cost Ventilators To Fight COVID-19

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Ventilators can be the difference between life and death for a patient suffering from COVID-19. Sadly, ventilators are in short supply across the globe. South African engineering company EPMC Holdings are making ventilators to fill the supply gap. The low-cost machines will be crucial in the fight against COVID-19. The company is popular for its involvement in the hydrocarbon and energy infrastructure sectors. It offers services in pipelines, fuel refuel stations, biogas, storage tanks and much more.

Co-founder and CEO, Tom Cowan, birth the idea after a recent visit to his sister who is a medical doctor. She explained that there is a shortage of ventilators in South Africa and the rest of the continent.  However, the shortage is not particular to Africa alone. Apparently, the United States is also grappling with a severe shortage of this life-saving equipment. Consequently, auto companies such as Tesla, Ford, and GM getting involved in the manufacturing of ventilators.

What is a ventilator?

According to MedicineNet, a ventilator is “a machine that mechanically assists a patient in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The process is sometimes referred to as artificial respiration.” It is most useful during anesthesia in medical operations of patients severely injured and cannot breathe on their own. Ventilators are crucial in helping COVID-19 patients because of the potential collapse of the lungs in severe cases.

Companies with a specialty in the production of ventilators include Philips, Medtronic and Hamilton Medical. However, because of severe shortage, unrelated companies are now taking up the challenge. President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order that mandates companies to focus on the production of medical gears. This has further led to a surge in the number of companies manufacturing ventilators.

Actualizing the idea

Challenged to make a difference, Cowan started to think of a way of making ventilators. Since EPMC Holdings is not primarily into the manufacture of medical gears, a switch of that magnitude will require a lot of research. However, Cowan would not let any obstacle come in his way. After scouring the Internet, it turned out ventilators were not so complex to build. Speaking about his encounter with his sister, Cowan said, 

“At that stage, I wasn’t even 100% sure what a ventilator does. We talked about it and she explained it to me, and it sounded like something very similar to a gas system that we usually design.”

In roughly two hours, they had come up with the first concept and in two to three days, a prototype. The company recently posted a YouTube video demonstrating how the innovation works. It is simplistic yet very promising. The machine looks nimble and straightforward but highly effective.

Cost comparison

Perspex, stainless steel or even wood are choices for producing an affordable mechanical ventilator. The innovation gives you the ability to “physically set the breaths per minute, volume per breath, maximum pressure and flow for the machine.” This one will go for just under $2,000 while their counterparts cost over $20,000 per unit upwards. This is a huge relief to health ministries across Africa.

African governments are cash-strapped and allocating budgets for expensive ventilators is a daunting task. There are concerns about the population living in poverty. There are virtually no stimulus packages for citizens in some African countries. That is why African ministers have called for a $100 billion allocation.

Africa, just like the rest of the globe is undergoing a tough time coping with the Coronavirus pandemic. Its population of over 1.3 billion is at risk, given that the health care systems in individual countries are weak.  Established countries like the USA and UK are having a difficult time containing the virus. What is the fate of Africa if the pandemic becomes very severe in the region? Back in March, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the continent should be ready for unprecedented cases of infections and deaths.

“I think Africa should wake up. My continent should wake up,” he said. The number of cases and deaths is rising steadily. At the time of this publication, Africa had over 10,000 infections, 900 recoveries, and 487 deaths. Aware of the urgency, EPMC Holdings has already started production of the first 50 units for Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Ghana.

Not certified in South Africa

Soth Africa has strict approval regulations. To get a ventilator certified, the company will first need European Union approval. However, EPMC Holdings is pushing the ventilators to countries with more flexible laws. African countries are receiving donations including money, face masks and ventilators from other parts of the world. Kenya recently received 10 ventilators from the United Arab Emirates. to serve the county of Mombasa.

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma sent a big donation to all 54 African countries. This includes 500 ventilators,  200,000 suits and face shields, 2,000 thermometers, 1 million swabs. It also has extraction kits and 500,000 gloves. The items landed in Ethiopia and was distributed to the beneficiaries.

There are millions of dollars pouring into Africa from partner countries like Denmark and the USA. This all shows that everyone globally is affected in one way or another and that we should definitely fight the pandemic together, regardless of differences. Play your part by staying at home and keeping to social distancing rules to slow the spread.


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