Masiyiwa champions AU COVID-19 fight

THE African Union (AU) has set in motion a bid to raise resources for the procurement of 15 million COVID-19 test kits per month for distribution to member States as the regional body up-scales testing capacities on the continent in the fight to contain the respiratory disease.

By Nkululeko Sibanda

Zimbabwean businessman and Econet Wireless founder Strive Masiyiwa, who was recently appointed AU special envoy on the COVID-19 pandemic, said in a statement that the test kits were vital in the region’s efforts to arrest the spread of the virus.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa last month announced Masiyiwa’s appointment as AU special envoy after the telecommunications guru held a virtual meeting with AU leaders.

Masiyiwa’s task is to co-ordinate the Africa private sector initiative for the procurement of personal protective equipment.

In a statement, Masiyiwa said there was a huge shortfall on test kits that the region was getting monthly.

“We need about 15 million (test kits) per month if the continent is to achieve the level of testing that will contain the spread of the disease and also eliminate lockdowns. We are currently getting 2,5 million per month, or about 50 000 per country,” he said.

The Econet Wireless founder said while member States were in dire need of the test kits, the region faced challenges in accessing the kits.

This, he said, was a result of limitations in the production of the kits.

“These test kits are actually not easy to produce and setting up production factories will take time,” he added.

“Every country has a shortage of these kits, including the United States. We are close to meeting our target now. And there are innovations coming through which will see us eliminate the shortage completely,” Masiyiwa said.

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has, on several occasions, donated test kits as well as protective gear worth millions of United States dollars to African countries.

Masiyiwa said he had been tasked by the AU, as a special envoy, to also work vigorously on the unblocking of the supply chain for the essential items seen as key in the fight against the coronavirus.

“(Part of my job is to) find critical supplies (and to) unblock the supply chain. Africa has a critical shortage of key items, which are also in short supply worldwide,” he said.

The initiative seeks, among other things, to procure over 50 000 various types of ventilators and oxygen support machines, and personal protection equipment for doctors, nurses and healthcare workers.

“My first task was to read up to understand what was required and then speak to experts (to deepen understanding). The next task is then to mobilise African experts, international support, including African governments, and the African private sector (to come on board),” Masiyiwa said.

“I am confident that we can unblock the supply chain. I am confident that we can give African countries immediate access to what they want, ensure that prices (of the essentials) are fair, and that we can ensure these can be delivered quickly and efficiently. We have begun to build a formidable alliance of African and global partners, including funders and suppliers.”

He warned his detractors that he would not give in to the frustration they were subjecting him to.

“The next two weeks will be crucial. There is much resistance, even against me personally. I will not be distracted because I understand where it comes from,” Masiyiwa said.

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