/ MEDIA STATEMENT / This content is not written by Creamer Media, but is a supplied media statement.
South African state-owned nuclear technology company NTP Radioisotopes SOC Ltd, a subsidiary of Necsa, has stood out as an unlikely success story during the country’s national lockdown and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since late March 2020, when a strict national lockdown was declared in the country, the isotope manufacturer has managed to safely continue production and sent out over 120 shipments of essential medical radioisotopes to healthcare clients around the world. The medical radioisotopes are used in nuclear medicine procedures including for the diagnosis and management of conditions such as cancers and heart disease.
Although these shipments represent a fraction of the company’s usual orders – global demand for nuclear medicine has declined as healthcare priorities have shifted to responses to the COVID-19 pandemic – they still represent critical revenue for a state-owned company that employs nearly 500 people, and was on the verge of closure just a year ago following a series of extended unplanned shutdowns of its radiochemicals processing facilities, which saw the previously profitable enterprise exhaust most of its cash reserves.
‘The return-to-service programme launched in May 2019 that managed our return to sustainable commercial production, was also the same programme that enabled us to put a rapid-response COVID-19 Crisis Management Team in place in early March,’ says NTP Group MD Tina Eboka. ‘This also allowed us to continuously engage with and report on time to the National Nuclear Regulator on our safe operating procedures.’
‘The Crisis Management Team implemented work-from-home, physical distancing and other protocols even before the lockdown, and this allowed us to continue safely with isotope production during that time,’ she adds.
In addition, NTP’s sales and marketing team and majority-owned subsidiary company NTP Logistics SOC Ltd ensured that extremely time-sensitive medical isotopes were able to reach their destinations in time.
‘Working together with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s Nuclear Unit and other state organisations we have continued to find cargo solutions for various regions,’ says Eboka.
‘Although our sales have been adversely affected by the pandemic, by staying in production we were able to secure at least some revenue, which allow us to continue paying staff salaries, and presented an important opportunity to start to rebuild our customer relationships that were damaged after the 2017 shutdowns,’ adds NTP’s Group Executive for Finance, Precious Hawadi.
Despite these significant achievements, majority union NEHAWU recently issued a series of statements indicating discontent with NTP and its processes, including the conversion of three consultants to permanent employment at NTP.
‘It is disappointing for us that the union has taken to criticising us in a series of Whatsapp statements, despite our long-standing, normal and ongoing engagements’ says NTP’s Employee Relations Manager Lindo Zwane
‘NTP Union leadership was present at our project board meetings last year chaired by the Acting Group CEO of Necsa and the NTP Group Managing Director. Here the full recruitment and personnel capacitation process of the Sustainable Return to Service Programme was presented and approved. It is rather strange that, 15 months later, this is now being raised as an issue, especially when all recruitment processes were performed in terms of Labour Law requirements and NTP’s own policies,’ says Zwane.
‘We remain committed to the safety and sustainability of our operations to ensure continued employment,’ says Tina Eboka.