Ford donates R2.5m to SA’s health surveillance system

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The OHSS gathers occupational health intelligence to help protect workers’ health.
The OHSS gathers occupational health intelligence to help protect workers’ health.

Ford South Africa has donated R2.5 million to help fund the National Institute for Occupational Health’s (NIOH's) ICT initiatives to help in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funds, according to the automaker, will go towards enhancing the National Occupational Health Surveillance System (OHSS) – a programme implemented by the NIOH, a division of the National Health Laboratory Service.

The OHSS has designed COVID-19 surveillance digital platforms which tap into existing platforms (eg, those already used by employers) to collect symptom screening, testing, contact tracing, vulnerability data and return to work data through a surveillance system for all workers in the private and public sector.

Using multiple surveillance systems to monitor workers in the public and private sectors, the project is centred on data supplied by employers on COVID-19 infections in the workplace under the direction of the Department of Employment and Labour.

The data helps to identify industries and occupational groups at risk of infection and analyses the impact on industries and occupational groups. It is then used to inform appropriate interventions – including policies, programmes or resources – to mitigate the spread of the disease.

“The COVID-19 pandemic hit the people of South Africa extremely hard, whether directly through suffering the effects of the disease or losing loved ones, and by virtue of the long-term economic fallout and resulting job losses,” says Neale Hill, MD of Ford South Africa.

“Therefore, helping fund the NIOH surveillance system with the R2.5 million donation is the logical next step in our commitment to partnering with national government as it rolls out this project to ensure the country is better equipped and resourced to manage this health crisis and any others that may follow.”

Experts from the NIOH have been leading the country on COVID-19 workplace guidelines and procedures, surveillance, online training and education as well as research.

The team has produced various educational and awareness materials to cater for all categories of employers and employees. While the current focus is primarily on COVID-19, the OHSS has been developed to monitor all occupational diseases.

Currently, the online system that is developed is a pilot programme, billed the first of its kind in SA, that gathers occupational health intelligence to ultimately protect workers’ health.

The development of the OHSS arose as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was a joint development between the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and NIOH.

The donation will assist the institute by improving and maintaining the hardware, upgrading and further development of operating systems and data visualisation, as well as the development and provision of data links with the employers in the formal sector.

Dr Spo Kgalamono, executive director of the NIOH, acknowledged Ford’s donation as a valuable contribution to support the crucial work being done nationally.

“We are extremely touched by this generous donation from Ford and thank you for the support in this war against COVID-19,” she says.

“The OHSS project is a huge task considering its national scale and potential coverage of workplaces with greater than 50 workers. It requires a dedicated and experienced team, human and physical resources, technological advances and expertise, as well as training and awareness to meet the requirements of the system.

The donation expands Ford’s commitment to SA during the pandemic, which previously included the production of over 285 000 face shields, along with financial and vehicle support for numerous non-profit organisations.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit SA in March 2020, Ford has played an important role in assisting the National Department of Health and several non-profit organisations across the country.

Furthermore, Ford’s COVID-19 Employee Donation Match Programme, initiated by the Ford Motor Company Fund, contributed more than R17 million to help community organisations in their relief efforts in 20 countries through Gift of the Givers.

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