International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said the notion of Africa being at the back of the line for life-saving ventilators would be to the detriment of humanity.
But, Pandor said, her impression from a recent virtual G20 leaders meeting, was that other countries have recognised Africa’s need during the coronavirus pandemic.
She was speaking at a media briefing by several ministers on Tuesday in Pretoria, providing updates on lockdown measures.
Global supply chains of ventilators, which are critical for the treatment of severely ill Covid-19 patients, are under strain to produce more machines.
In countries such as the US and the UK, strategies to manufacture more ventilators include repurposing car manufacturing companies to produce ventilators.
News24 reported over the weekend that Marius Fourie, the managing director of Draeger South Africa – the subsidiary of one of the world’s largest ventilator manufacturers in Germany – said Africa was “unfortunately at the back of the line” for ventilators.
This was as global supply chains focused on the current epicentre of the outbreak in Europe.
News24 also reported that UK-based company Penlon had refused to share technical drawings of an old ventilator model requested by a group of doctors, engineers and businessmen who are trying to locally manufacture ventilators.
Pandor, in response to questions from News24, said her impression was that there is an awareness that developing countries, and in particular least developed countries, will have to be given assistance urgently.
In the Central African Republic for example, there were only three ventilators for a population of 5 million, CNN reported on Wednesday.
South Africa has an estimated 4,000 ventilators in the private health sector, and roughly half that number in the public health system, a private businessman involved in high-level government discussions told News24.
“You don’t want the pandemic to increase. What is very clear as we have been arguing for a long time with respect to Ebola, is diseases are global. People may think they are local, or national, but they are global in effect, global in impact,” Pandor said.
“And if we don’t assist each other, and that has been now I think statement number one from the director-general of the World Health Organisation. If we do not collaborate, this problem becomes bigger for all of us.”
Pandor said Africa should not be marginalised by any means.
“Even in terms of science and the emerging collaboration that we are seeing among scientists, we want this to be a global initiative. We are very pleased that several of the G20 countries have already made commitments to assist the African Centre for Disease Control in Addis Ababa,” she said.
South Africa had also made a commitment to contribute to this initiative, Pandor said.
“Because we have to empower ourselves to be part of international research and innovation initiatives. So I would really argue against a notion of Africa being at the back. We would be doing so to the detriment of humanity.”
Pandor confirmed that countries such as Germany had already made significant commitments to assist South Africa, as well as China and Chinese companies who have a presence in the country and on the continent.
Further initiatives by the African Union, chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa, have been set up with an eye on assisting African countries should the need arise.