Picture: 123RF/ELENA MATVEEVA
Picture: 123RF/ELENA MATVEEVA

There are promising signs that the price of medical protective equipment will fall in the next few weeks, the Solidarity Fund said on Thursday.

The fund was established a month ago by President Cyril Ramaphosa, to channel government funds and donations to fight Covid-19 and relieve the economic hardship wrought on households. One of its priorities is sourcing and procuring personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves on the international market, which has seen huge price hikes in the face of soaring global demand.

Covid-19 has raced around the world since it first emerged in late December, sending even rich nations scrambling to find medical supplies. As of Thursday, there were about 2.65-million reported cases world wide, with about 730,000 of those recovered, with 185,000 deaths. SA has so far confirmed more than 3,953 cases and 75 deaths.  

“Thus far we have been able to procure well within and often below the surge price range. We are hoping global supply constraints will ease in the next three weeks and prices will come down,” said Solidarity Fund healthcare lead Jonathan Broomberg, who heads insurer Discovery’s Vitality health business.

“There is no certainty on this, but many market players suggest that stock levels are increasing quite rapidly, and that global demand is reaching a peak. This suggests that market conditions will become less tight over the next few weeks, making it easier to secure stock and to achieve lower prices,” he said.

The Solidarity Fund has received pledges of R2.6bn from the government, businesses and individuals. A total of R1.1bn has been earmarked for its healthcare response, which includes procuring medical equipment. So far, more than 200 ventilators, 21-million masks, and “hundreds of thousands” of other items of PPE have been procured, said Broomberg.

Funds have also been directed to the National Health Laboratory Service for 400,000 Covid-19 test kits, he said.

The health department's acting director-general Anban Pillay presented documents to parliament on April 10 laying bare the massive government requirements for PPE. At that stage, the government needed to source 100-million surgical masks for healthcare workers and patients, and 10.3-million N95 respirators.

The Solidarity Fund, which is expected to launch its website early next week, plans to publish the average prices it has paid for PPE and how these prices stack up against global benchmark prices, Broomberg said. As much stock as possible is being brought in by sea, given the “astronomical” price of air freight.

“We are working extremely hard to get the prices as low as possible and ensure there is maximum transparency.” 

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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