Online portal to boost access to essential medical Covid-19 supplies

17th April 2020 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Contributing Editor and Photographer

As part of the Business for South Africa (B4SA) initiative, and with technical assistance from Tencent South Africa, the South African Medical Technology Industry Association (Samed) has created a live online portal for its member companies to upload details of the Covid-19 supplies and equipment they are able to provide.

Essentially, this becomes a resource for procurement services supporting the health sector’s Covid-19 response. The aim is to give buyers real-time data on stock availability, quality documentation and transparent conditions.

The Samed represents 180 companies that supply medical technology, such as emergency ventilators used in intensive care units and tests, personal protective equipment (PPE), devices and other essential medical products to the South African market.

The critical need for medical technology products related to the Covid-19 response has triggered offers from a large number of companies which have had no previous presence in the South African medical technology market. “It is often difficult to distinguish bona fide suppliers from more opportunistic ventures,” reports Samed.

The organisation notes that there is a very real risk of healthcare providers and ordinary citizens purchasing substandard or counterfeit equipment or products for which warehousing, servicing and other forms of back-up are lacking.

Samed is therefore working closely with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority to devise ways to manage this risk. Having a dedicated channel for communication and procurement is one aspect of it.

Samed chairperson Avanthi Govender Bester says the portal is an automated process to help facilitate the overwhelming demand for medical essentials, which Samed anticipates will continue for weeks to come.

“Our member companies can update their information continually, and this gives supply chain managers for the health sector a much better picture of the resources available.”

What led to the development of the online platform were increasing concerns about quality of some medical supplies that came to the fore in the weeks since the Covid-19 pandemic reached South Africa.

Since then, an international race has been on to secure adequate supplies of PPE for healthcare workers and essential equipment for treating individuals severely affected by the virus.

However, Samed notes that, while the focus has been on quantities of supplies, questions of quality and performance of products, and fair pricing, are equally important.

Meanwhile, a number of Samed members are supporting the government’s National Ventilator Project (NVP) and gearing up for local manufacture of breathing apparatuses including oxygen gas blenders, and the so-called bilevel positive airway pressure and continuous positive airway pressure machines.

Govender Bester says Samed is encouraging its members to secure supplies. “In view of the global pressures on supply chains, and knowing that this is not easy for our member companies, it assists that all products listed on the portal will be in high demand for a while to come.”

Samed is also engaging with a range of stakeholders to find ways to ramp up local production of PPE and other items. The real-time information about demand and supply generated by the portal will assist in focusing these efforts.

“The Covid-19 epidemic has emphasised the role of medical technology in providing effective healthcare and enabling and protecting healthcare professionals. Our members realise the huge responsibility they have, and we will work tirelessly to strengthen South Africa’s efforts to meet the demand for care and save lives,” she says.