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African countries establish digital forum to order medical supplies

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By ANGELA OKETCH

African countries are set to challenge their counterparts with bigger financial muscles in the search for crucial Covid-19 equipment following the formation of a one-stop platform that will coordinate the move.

The Africa Medical Supplies platform will enable the 55 countries in the continent to key in and purchase the critical medical commodities and at a competitive price.

Globally, everyone is fighting to get adequate and much needed medical supplies and only those with money have gotten their way to the top.

In a Zoom press conference held by the African Union attended by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is the chairman of the African Union, Africa Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki and AU Special Envoy Strive Masiyiwa, the leaders agreed that the virus has left the continent struggling for the crucial commodities.

SHORTAGES

The platform addresses the shortage of commodities, the security of suppliers, price competitiveness, and transparency in procurement.

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Mr Ramaphosa said that African countries have been in a rush to test as many people as possible though they are under pressure due to the shortage of commodities.

“Driven by the African Union, the countries of the continent have rallied together with both agencies, to usher in an era of intra-African cooperation. The virus has unleashed the pan-Africanism that we have always wanted to see,” he said.

“We are harnessing the potential of this increased cooperation to innovate in ways that were once deemed impossible. The continent response towards the virus is a testimony to African resilience to our often undervalued expertise in managing emergencies and unwavering quest to self-reliance,” he said.

PAN-AFRICAN SPIRIT

Mr Faki said formation of the platforms is a truly pan-African exercise that goes to the heart of the region.

“We know that the African countries will be stronger if we negotiate the price, quality and availability of the commodities as a block of 55 countries rather than a single country,” Mr Faki said

“The launch to procure at one-stop-shop at a very competitive price negotiated by our special envoy is an example of how the union can be stronger together when we act as one. Africa is the largest trading market in the world. We can negotiate and trade competitively,” he added.

The pandemic, he said, is also a story of how the African rose as one.

TESTS

Explaining how the platform works, Mr Masiyiwa, who came up with it, said the idea was as a result of many African countries doing as many tests as possible due to the shortage of commodities.

African countries are only doing two million tests a month yet they are required to test over 10 million samples. The platforms will allow them to expand their testing capacity.

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“African countries were not getting lifesaving medical suppliers and diagnostic kits and were struggling, hence the need to come up with the platform,” Mr Masiyiwa said.

He revealed that they reached out to African countries and asked them their priority areas and what they were in need of.

MAKING ORDER

The countries are able to key into the platform, type what they need, check on the prices and order as per the quantity allocated to them.

The countries then open a special bank account either for cash or credit line. Once the orders are placed, one of the African flight carriers is assigned to deliver the supplies.

The bank has set aside USD3.8 billion towards Covid-19 and part of the money is going towards supporting countries that do not have cash but are in need of commodities to get them on credit.

The bank is also overseeing a Covid-19 fund contributed to by African countries and donors. This is the fund used by the bank to cover flight costs.

The platform also works with African airlines with the capacity to do cold chains, logistics and they are paid using the commercial rates to carry the cargoes. The shipments are done once a month in Johannesburg and Addis Ababa.

NO DONORS

“This demonstrates the power of volume. We are talking about demands for 50 million people… [and] for the first six months we will deliver this. Africa has the potential,” says Mr Masiyiwa.

He added that there are no donors involved in paying for the medical suppliers and countries which have a challenge in paying in cash are advised to open a credit line and have a bilateral discussion with the bank.

The platform has so far met the target set by the countries on what they need.

The platform has over 30 million supplies for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and an equal number of other critical items including N95 masks for healthcare workers and ventilators.

PRICES REDUCED

The pricing of the commodities, Mr Masiyiwa said, has also reduced. For the N95 masks for healthcare workers, African countries have been buying them for USD30 (Sh3000) each, which he said was unacceptable. The platform was able to negotiate the price and they can now purchase it at Sh200.

They set a target of 80 million pieces. However, the platform has 194 million pieces selling at Sh200 each.

For the distribution in a fair and equitable manner, the platform used the World Health Organisation mechanism that looks at a country’s population and disease burden to allocate what each needs in each category of medical equipment.

“We allocate the commodities as per the country’s need so that they do not end up fighting for the same commodities but should a country reject what they are allocated or need more they are reallocated or added more,” he said.

BENEFITS

The benefits of resource pulling in such a manner are numerous including time factor. Countries will have access to an online marketplace with just a click of the button as opposed to the time consuming process of touring the globe to procure the supplies.

The pricing is also low.

The platform connects the governments directly with the manufacturers by removing the middlemen in the supply chain.

The security of suppliers is also guaranteed.

“By pooling the needs of the continent, we will manage to achieve a quantity of scale and present suppliers with a large and a short market. Countries including Seychelles would not get their commodities on time because of the smaller quantities that they were ordering,” he says.

LOGISTICAL DELAYS

It will also reduce logistical delays and simplify payment processes and provide a common platform where governments can access quality and certified medical suppliers.

The buyers of the suppliers remain the governments and not individuals.

And once a Covid-19 vaccine is available, it will be added to the portal so that countries do not struggle to purchase the much-needed commodity and also ensure that there is easy access.

Manufacturing activities in Africa will be catalysed as governments seek competitively priced goods and services from nearby markets.

“Made in Africa is really our goal, we are going to showcase African excellence. It is important to tell our mother continent has managed the pandemic,” Mr Masiyiwa says.



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