African and global philanthropists have teamed up to help African nations secure urgently needed ventilators, breathing support devices and other medical equipment, in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Strive Masiyiwa, co-founder of Higherlife Foundation, who has recently been appointed as an African Union Special Envoy to mobilise the private sector response to COVID-19, is leading a private partnership to start local manufacturing of the equipment. Working with fellow philanthropists Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Skoll, the group have identified two solutions which will be manufactured in South Africa.
The initiative will start with the production of 1,000 bridge ventilators, a design that was provided to this partnership for free by Virgin Orbit and has recently received emergency use authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is designed with a price significantly lower than a normal ventilator. The partners are also in discussions with Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company regarding the oxygen helmet produced in partnership with NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California and the Aerospace Valley Task Force in California, pending a grant of emergency use authorization by the US FDA. Oxygen helmets help open up the alveoli in the lungs, and delay or prevent Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).
“We have found a major South African company called Invicta Holdings that can mass produce these bridge ventilators and oxygen helmets. Any country that wants them can buy them at cost from that company,” said Masiyiwa, founder and Group Chairman of Econet Global. “This is a not-for-profit venture for us as philanthropists”.
The philanthropists have come together to secure initial orders, ensuring that the devices can quickly reach healthcare professionals across the continent to save lives. This will be the first of many innovations that will be locally manufactured in Africa to serve the needs of over 1.2 billion people facing the onslaught of this pandemic.
Masiyiwa has also pulled together a team to build an online platform to manage global procurement of medical equipment, including PPE. To be launched in partnership with the Africa CDC before the end of May, it will play a critical role in supply management, with Invicta one of many manufacturers who has agreed to sell medical equipment through this platform.
Branson, whose companies developed the ventilator and oxygen helmets as part of their philanthropic efforts to support the global COVID-19 response, has a deep and long relationship with Africa.
“We’ve been honoured to work in partnership with Strive, Jeff and the team at Invicta to get much needed bridge ventilators and oxygen helmets to countries across Africa,” Branson said.
“I’m so proud of the teams at Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic who immediately pivoted their engineering expertise to create low-cost, innovative solutions to save lives. Our foundation, Virgin Unite, will continue to support this partnership and work with its other partners, like Last Mile Health who are mobilising thousands of community health workers, to do what we can to help flatten the curve in Africa.”
In 2014-16, the African Union in partnership with a range of global organisations, successfully led the response to Ebola in West Africa, stopping it from taking millions of lives and spreading to the rest of the world. Its expertise will be critical in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and in strengthening health systems across the continent.
Founded by Jeff Skoll, the California-based Skoll Foundation has committed to expanding its giving to $200m to fight COVID-19 and its impacts. Skoll’s first COVID-19 grants were directed to the African continent in early February to assist with pandemic preparedness and response. A full list of Skoll’s grants to date are available here. Skoll said, “The global scope of this pandemic requires an urgent and coordinated response. This is a tangible example of how working together gets us farther, faster on behalf of those who deserve access to PPE and assistive breathing devices but have been boxed out of the global purchasing markets. We consider it an honour to work with Strive, Richard, and the Africa CDC on this effort.”
Gavin Pelser, Director of Invicta Holdings and CEO of Engineering Solutions Group shared, “Invicta Holdings Chairman, Dr Christo Wiese, has personally committed to various initiatives with the objective of minimising the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential devastating outcome on the people of Africa. Dr Wiese is proud to be part of this great initiative, working with Richard, Strive and Jeff to procure specialized equipment designed by the best engineers in the world from Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic. Invicta will deliver high quality manufacturing of this world-class product in Africa for the people of Africa.”
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About Higherlife Foundation
Higherlife Foundation is a social impact organization that invests in human capital to build thriving individuals, communities and sustainable livelihoods. Founded by Strive and Tsitsi Masiyiwa in 1996, the Foundation was first launched in Zimbabwe and has since spread its footprint to Lesotho, Burundi, Rwanda, Swaziland, South Africa, and Kenya. Higherlife Foundation implements projects in Education; Health; Rural Transformation and Sustainable Livelihoods; and Disaster Relief and Preparedness impacting millions of lives in the communities it serves.
About the Skoll Foundation
The Skoll Foundation drives large-scale change by investing in, connecting, and celebrating social entrepreneurs and the innovators who help them solve the world’s most pressing problems. Founded by Jeff Skoll, the Foundation’s signature program is the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. Today, the Foundation’s portfolio includes 116 organizations and 144 social entrepreneurs around the world. Learn more at skoll.org
About Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic is a vertically-integrated aerospace company, pioneering human spaceflight for private individuals and researchers, as well as a manufacturer of advanced air and space vehicles. Using its proprietary and reusable technologies and supported by a distinctive, Virgin-branded customer experience, it is developing a spaceflight system designed to offer customers a unique, multi-day, transformative experience. This culminates in a spaceflight that includes views of Earth from space and several minutes of weightlessness that will launch from Spaceport America, New Mexico. Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company believe that one of the most exciting and significant opportunities of our time lies in the commercial exploration of space and the development of technology that willchange the way we travel across the globe in the future. Together we are opening access to space to change the world for good.
About Virgin Orbit
Virgin Orbit builds and operates LauncherOne, the world’s most flexible dedicated launch service for commercial and government customers. Designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California, LauncherOne is air-launched from a modified 747-400 carrier aircraft, allowing it to operate from locations all over the world in order to best serve each customer’s needs. Virgin Orbit’s systems are currently in an advanced stage of testing, with initial orbital launches expected soon. Virgin Orbit is a privately-held business owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and by Mubadala Investment Company. To learn more or to apply to join Virgin Orbit’s talented and growing team, visit virginorbit.com.
About Virgin Unite
Virgin Unite is the entrepreneurial foundation of the Virgin Group and the Branson family. We started Virgin Unite with the aim of bringing people together to never accept the unacceptable, to turn challenges into opportunities and to always push boundaries that make both business and the world better. Virgin Unite and the Branson family have donated over $50m to partners across Africa working to strengthen health systems and support economic development – this includes partners like Last Mile Health and Living Goods who mobilise and train thousands of community health workers; Sightsavers, who are working to end Trachoma; and the One Acre Fund, supporting more than one million African farmers. Our overheads are covered by Richard Branson and the Virgin Group, meaning that 100% of all donations received go directly to where they are needed most.