Philanthropist across Africa and the globe are working together to help African nations secure urgently needed ventilators, breathing support devices and other medical equipment to fight Covid-19 pandemic.

Zimbabwean businessman, Mr Strive Masiyiwa, Executive Chairman & Founder of the Econet Group, who was recently appointed African Union Special Envoy to mobilize the private sector response to Covid-19, is leading a private partnership to start local manufacturing of Covid-19 equipment. He is working with fellow philanthropists such as Sir Richard Branson, British business magnate, and founder of the Virgin Group, and Canadian billionaire internet entrepreneur, Jeff Skoll. The group has identified two pieces of equipment which will be manufactured in South Africa.

In a media statement, the group said the initiative would 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 authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The model 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 prototype produced in partnership with NASA Armstrong Flight Research Centre 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).

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.

Mr Masiyiwa has also mobilized a team to build an online platform to manage global procurement of medical equipment, including PPE. To be launched in partnership with the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention before the end of this month, it will play a critical role in supply management, with Invicta, one of many manufacturers that have agreed to sell medical equipment through the 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,” Mr 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 mobilizing thousands of community health workers, to do what we can to help flatten the curve in Africa.”

The California-based Skoll Foundation, founded by Jeff Skoll, has also 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.