Taking the fight directly to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nelson Mandela Bay, Volkswagen South Africa (VWSA) and the Eastern Cape government this week beefed up its arsenal against the virus with the launch of the Port Elizabeth Molecular Virology Laboratory.
SETTING THE SCENE
As an epicentre, along with the Buffalo City metro in East London, in the Eastern Cape province, the critical and urgent need for additional COVID-19 medical facilities became apparent during the early stages of the pandemic in South Africa.
This prompted the Uitenhage-based carmaker — which has been both practically and vocally at the forefront of private efforts to combat the disease in the metro — to convert one of its former plants in Port Elizabeth into an overflow facility for patients with a capacity of more than 1 000 beds.
The first phase of the fully equipped Rev Dr Elizabeth Mamisa Chabula-Nxiweni Field Hospital, ultimately resultant of a joint venture between VWSA, the Department of Health, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, was handed over to the department on 23 June.
The project was valued at a staggering R100 million, with R10 million being allocated to protective equipment.
LATEST INVESTMENT: New laboratory
Volkswagen, which is a major contributor to the regional economy, employment and social development in the region, on Tuesday 4 August again saw the results of another massive investment into the fight against the pandemic.
Having been vociferous around the need for and the availability of testing capacity in the region, VWSA and the Eastern Cape provincial government leadership gathered at the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) in Port Elizabeth to hand over a catalytic new laboratory facility.
The new facility was established to vastly increase — if not double — NHLS testing capacity. Post-COVID-19, the facility will be repurposed to assist in the battle against two other diseases prevalent in the province – HIV/Aids and tuberculosis (TB).
The Health Department, the NHLS and by extension, scores of frontline health workers, also took receipt of millions of rands of protective and other critical equipment at the same event.
THE OFFICIAL HANDOVER
The handover was attended by a range of dignitaries, including Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane, acting mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay Councillor Thsonono Buyeye and outgoing VWSA chairman and managing director Thomas Schaefer — among many other dignitaries, including health professionals at the forefront of the pandemic.
Attended by a large media contingent, Dr TD Mengashe who was tasked with addressing the bulk of the numerical and technical data at the core of government’s efforts against the pandemic, told the gathering that the government’s approach had been “an evidence-based approach”.
Assisting province to tweak approach
This, and based on various disease modeling tools, he said, had seen the province tweak its approach and activities around the disease, particularly with respect to testing, as the pandemic had developed.
Volkswagen’s proactive, multi-faceted and financially significant initiatives to address the virus, drew heartfelt praise from all government leadership and the health professionals there, while a number of provincial leaders lauded the extent and a “new level” of public-private cooperation that had been achieved between VWSA and the provincial government and other stakeholders.
VWSA contributions to metro recognised
Schaefer — who has played pivotal roles in numerous organisations outside of his company, such as the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber — drew significant recognition for leadership and contributions to the metro.
Schaefer has been reassigned to Europe where he is set to head up Volkswagen’s Czechoslovakia-based brand Skoda Auto.
FIGHTING COVID-19: R4m to improve testing capacity
Described as a new “fully fledged” molecular virology laboratory, the new facility is housed in converted office space at the NHLS building in the city.
To effect the facility, VWSA re-allocated about R4 million of the R100 million grant funding received from the German government for the COVID-19 activities in the metro to support the NHLS in the region by helping to improve its testing capacity.
VWSA also analysed and recommended improvements to the NHLS’s testing processes to increase efficiency. These improvements would increase the testing capacity to more than 3 000 tests a day, thereby more than doubling the current daily testing capacity.
Another portion of the grant funding was used for the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for local public hospitals, local primary healthcare clinics and COVID-19 test centres and would be allocated for frontline health use.
PPE handed over to department, included:
- 50 000 N95 personalised masks;
- 65 000 disposable gowns;
- Two million latex and nitrile gloves; and
- 1 000 visors.
The PPE will be distributed to staff at the three main COVID-19 hospitals in the metro, which are Dora Nginza Hospital, Livingstone Hospital and Uitenhage Provincial Hospital, as well as other regional primary care clinics and COVID-19 test centres.
VWSA also handed over 200 digital infrared thermometers, 150 portable finger-tip pulse oximeters and 40 stand-alone table top pulse oximeters, which are critical medical equipment for the assessment and treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Part of VWSA’s greater field hospital project
VWSA procured the PPE as part of their greater project to convert its former Port Elizabeth plant into the Rev Dr Elizabeth Mamisa Chabula-Nxiweni Field Hospital.
“Our frontline healthcare workers are in dire need of the PPE in order to feel safe and be able to do their work, which is to provide care and save the lives of our people,” said Schaefer.
It is our wish that this PPE will bring relief and hope to our healthcare workers who have been toiling under difficult circumstances to treat the COVID-19 patients.”
Molecular virology laboratory in 18 days
Using R4 million of the funding from the BMZ, VWSA also supported the NHLS branch in Port Elizabeth. This laboratory is responsible for the majority of COVID-19 testing in the metro, with a current testing capacity of around 1 500 tests per day.
VWSA assisted the NHLS by performing extensive renovations to turn an open office space into a fully-fledged molecular virology laboratory in the space of 18 days.
“We need to be able to trace the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic to fight it — the faster we act, the better we can keep it from spreading further,” said Schaefer.
“That is why it is absolutely crucial for the NHLS to have the capability to analyse tests and deliver results quickly.
“As VWSA we are proud to be able to contribute our expertise and assist the NHLS in optimising their processes to reach this capacity. We are also grateful to the German government, who made these improvements possible. We will keep supporting those who lead the fight against COVID-19 wherever possible.”
Mabuyane: ‘Shot in the arm’ from VWSA
Mabuyane said the provincial government was grateful to VWSA for its continuous contribution to the fight against COVID-19.
“The donation of PPE and testing resources are giving us a shot in the arm as we continue with saving the lives of our people,” said Mabuyane.
‘Impressive’ recovery numbers in Eastern Cape
“We appreciate the contribution by VWSA because they are contributing to the work being done by the collective. As we are fighting this virus together, we will continue to support many people to recover from infections.
“The impressive recovery numbers we are seeing in the Eastern Cape are made possible by contributions from companies like VWSA, the health workers in our health system, and members of the public who comply with the COVID-19 precautions and prevention measures.
“We must continue fighting the virus by protecting each other. This investment will benefit the health workers who are on the frontline against this pandemic and will help bolster our testing capabilities, so that we can provide healthcare to those who need it after testing positive,” concluded Mabuyane.