Minister Patel urges strong support for SA innovations

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Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel says only a strong innovation base and new technologies will anchor SA’s economic recovery.

The minister says for the government to succeed in reviving the economy, which has been ravaged by the Coronavirus health pandemic (COVID-19), it must consider long-term support for innovation in the country.

Patel addressed the virtual national COVID-19 conference held on Friday, under the theme, ‘Harnessing science, technology and innovation in response to COVID-19: A national and international effort’.

The conference brought together global scientists, governments, business and civil society, focused on health innovations and technologies, and social and economic sustainability during and after the pandemic.

“In March, when the virus reached our shores, we had no local manufacturing capacity for ventilators and yet the health care demand for ventilators surged. But today as we speak, South African-designed and manufactured ventilators are rolling off the production line,” Patel said.

The minister revealed that within the next month, SA expects thousands of non-invasive ventilators to be delivered to hospitals and medical facilities across the country all locally made.

“Within a space of four months, our country has gone from having no capacity to produce Continuous Positive Airway Pressure ventilators, to now having the first units coming off the production line.

“As we build our production capacity, we will support our neighbours across the African continent with these ventilators. South African manufacturers have supplied sanitisers, masks and other critical medical goods to neighbouring countries,” Patel said.

According to Patel the national ventilator project is one example of what can be done with solidarity and science, and what can be achieved “when we work together toward common objectives”.

He added: “Other initiatives include the production of millions of litres of locally-made hand sanitisers and surface disinfectants, and the doubling of the local production of medical grade masks from six million a month to 13 million a month.  

“We now need to bring that same spirit to the wider task of economic reconstruction and use our technologies, our know-how, our expertise and our social solidarity to rebuild the economy.” 

Addressing the same conference, President Cyril Ramaphosa reiterated that the COVID-19 pandemic must be a clarion call for African nations to invest in pan-African science and innovation ecosystem.

Ramaphosa said investment in research and innovation has enabled South Africa to respond effectively to the pandemic.

“We have been able to support the national COVID-19 response in critical areas, including the development and provision of diagnostic tools, ventilators and personal protective equipment, and in epidemiological modelling and data analytics.”

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