Nomkhita Nqweni. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL/ROBERT TSHABALALA
Nomkhita Nqweni. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL/ROBERT TSHABALALA

The Solidarity Fund has disbursed more than half of the R2.1bn it has raised for the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE) and to roll out food relief for vulnerable households affected by the coronavirus.

The fund was established by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March to pool financial resources to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and contain the disease’s social and economic effect on citizens.

Nomkhita Nqweni, CEO of the fund, said in a virtual media briefing on Friday that of the R2.1bn disbursed, R1.2bn went to buying 55-million pieces of PPE such as surgical masks, N95 masks, gloves and ventilators, as well as providing food support to 300,000 families.

Because of the strict lockdown in the country, 92% of medical equipment is being imported and only 8% procured locally.

The country eased from level 5 to level 4 lockdown on May 1, allowing for key sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, mining and agriculture, to resume operations. Ramaphosa said this week that the government is in consultations with various stakeholders to further ease the lockdown to level 3 by the end of May — allowing for more economic activity, which has almost ground to a halt.

“It’s fair to say that we are only now starting to see activation of local manufacturing of PPE. In the initial phase we didn’t have a huge manufacturing capacity,” Nqweni said.

She said that seven days after the fund was established, they approved R100m worth of PPE, and within a month the figured surged to R905m.

The Solidarity Fund has approved R11.3m to support the local manufacturing of two prototypes of ventilators. This project aims to manufacture 10,000 ventilators by July, in line with the expected peak of Covid-19 cases in the country, said Nqweni.

The fund has approved R250m for the National Health Laboratory Services to acquire 400,000 Covid-19 testing kits to support mass testing across SA, especially in the outlying areas of the country.

Solidarity Fund chair Gloria Serobe said it has partnered with the Transnet Foundation to convert two of its Phelophepa healthcare trains into mobile Covid-19 testing units. The partnership is aimed at ramping up screening and testing in underserviced areas across KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, using the existing Transnet’s rail network.

“This partnership is unity in action, with the Solidarity Fund playing a co-ordinating role with multiple stakeholders and making real interventions to support government efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” Serobe said.

Transnet CEO Portia Derby said: “The Phelophepa trains are a well-known partner of rural communities in the provision of primary health services. It is a real privilege for us to now include Covid-19 testing at this critical time. We have been, and always will be, there for our people.”

Correction: May 18 2020
This article has been updated to clarify Nqweni’s comments and  correct the figures she provided at the media briefing.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za