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Africa’s ‘Amazon’ for COVID-19 medical supplies launches

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President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.

All 55 member states of the African Union (AU) are now able to place orders for certified coronavirus (COVID-19) critical medical equipment via an online one-stop shop.

Named the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), the online portal was unveiled during a virtual media conference convened by president Cyril Ramaphosa, the current AU chairperson, on Thursday evening.

According to the World Health Organisation, the African continent has a total of 265 356 COVID-19 cases, with more than 122 000 recoveries and over 7 000 deaths, to date.

This spread of the virus has resulted in a growing need for personal protective equipment (PPE) worldwide. To mitigate African governments being left at the end of the queue amid this demand, the AU leadership rallied for a continental strategy.

It is this strategy that paved the way for the AMSP, which is said to be at the heart of the continent’s efforts to contain COVID-19. It enables AU member states to purchase in-demand supplies, such as PPEs, clinical management devices and diagnostic kits.

Ramaphosa described the portal as a jewel in the crown of Pan-African cooperation, noting that COVID-19 has provided a great opportunity as much as it is a dark cloud hanging over the continent. “The silver lining around it is the creativity that has surged to the fore, finding ways of solving a problem.

“The Africa Medical Supplies Platform, developed in partnership with Afreximbank, is a ground-breaking innovation. It is a continental online portal to enable every single African country to access critical medical supplies needed in the fight against the pandemic.

“Through this platform we will address shortages and security of supply, ensure price competitiveness and transparency in procurement, reduce logistical delays, simplify payment processes and provide a common platform where governments can access services from quality and certified suppliers.

“Think of it as the Amazon, the Alibaba or even the eBay of coronavirus resources on the African continent – made in Africa by Africans.”

Strive takes the lead

Leading the development of the online platform was Strive Masiyiwa, founder and executive chairman of Econet Group and AU special envoy.

This after his appointment by Ramaphosa last month, to co-ordinate a private sector-led continental effort to procure much-needed PPEs.

Masiyiwa said, in terms of functionality, firstly, essential supplies are sourced, followed by buyers placing orders on the platform and then making payments. The seller will prepare the shipment, followed by delivery to the respective countries.

The platform is already resourced with critical medical equipment above the initial quantity estimates and below target sourcing prices from African and international manufacturers, he said.

“The Africa Medical Supplies Platform is just one innovation that African countries have developed to help mitigate the devastating impact of this pandemic threatening both the health of our people and our national economies. We are already getting requests from other parts of the world to license the AMSP concept. Africa is leading the way with this online solution to ensure all of our governments get access to PPEs and other urgent medical supplies they need, at fair prices.”

Other stakeholders involved with the project include the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Afreximbank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Janngo, as well as other African and international corporations, institutions and foundations.

Afreximbank will facilitate payments while logistics partners, including African national carriers and global freight forwarders, will expedite delivery.

According to Ramaphosa, what sets AMSP apart from other online marketplaces is that the buyer is not an individual, but governments. “Countries will be able to directly source from manufacturers in both the necessary quantities and at competitive prices.

“Once a vaccine is available, it too will be added to this portal in line with our stated commitment to ensuring there is equitable access to any form of lifesaving medication.

“Resources will be secured by governments on a quota basis determined among other things by vulnerability level. The benefits of resource pooling in such a manner are innumerable.”

Proudly made in Africa

The portal places strong emphasis on showcasing ‘made in Africa’ COVID-19 medical products on its homepage, said Masiyiwa.

For example, the platform will be looking to showcase organisations like South African company Invicta Holdings, which took on the challenge to manufacture a ventilator for Africa that is said to be the cheapest ventilator.

About 100 suppliers have already applied to be on the platform, he indicated. “The platform will always show you the African equivalent of what you want to buy. We are unashamed about this that where there's African products, the platform will always show you the African products.”

Ramaphosa added: “This platform is extending a lifeline to African small businesses and large industries that have been hard hit by the pandemic.

“Many will now be able to repurpose their operations, as industries in a number of East African countries have done, by converting their businesses to produce personal protective equipment.

“The entrepreneurship and innovation that has sprung up across the continent in response to the pandemic is remarkable.”

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