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Change the world

06/04/2020

As the number of (COVID-19) novel Coronavirus cases escalates in South Africa and the Eastern Cape, efforts to curb the spread of the virus are being intensified, with Nelson Mandela University availing its suite of skills and expertise to support local and provincial government’s efforts in the fight against the unfolding pandemic.

The University, through a newly constituted COVID-19 Coordinating Committee (CCC), is pooling its intellectual and other resources to contribute to the broader societal fight against the virus, which, as at 5 April 2020, had recorded 25 cases in the Eastern Cape and 433 in the Western Cape.

Since the virus reached South Africa, with the first case recorded on 5 March 2020, the country’s resources for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19, monitoring and tracing and the effective treatment of the virus have been largely stretched.

Like other Provinces, the Eastern Cape, is facing a serious shortage of critical supplies necessary in the rollout of the plans in place to fight against COVID-19. These include hand sanitisers, personal protective equipment (PPE), field hospitals and mobile healthcare units, medical equipment and possible infrastructure to augment what is available, should the need arise.

Provincial government, through the Office of the Premier (OTP) and the Department of Health, has called on various stakeholders, including higher education institutions, to play their part in assisting the fight against COVID-19.  In response to this, Mandela University has dedicated itself to contribute towards provincial efforts in line with its commitment of being an institution in the service of society.

Among the more immediate needs are face masks and alcohol-based sanitiser, which the University has been producing. About 250 litres of sanitiser and 400 disposable masks were donated to provincial government during a visit by Premier, Oscar Mabuyane and Health MEC, Sindiswa Gomba, on 2 April 2020.

“We are known as a university in the service of society. As public universities, we have three missions, research and innovation, learning and teaching, and engagement. Therefore, we have an obligation to respond, to stand and raise our hand, particularly as we are named after Madiba,” said Vice-Chancellor, Professor, Sibongile Muthwa, during the visit last week.

Since the establishment of the COVID-19 Coordinating Committee (CCC) on 31 March 2020, great progress has been made in developing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the OTP and in responding to immediate needs through the various sub-committees.

Practical interventions:

Sanitiser Production Sub-committee

The University’s chemical technology institute, InnoVenton, which has been manufacturing the hand sanitiser, is exploring ways to upscale production, presently geared to produce about 300 litres a day, once the requisite certification is approved.

The Department of Pharmacy’s Pharmaceuticals Division, in the Health Sciences Faculty, will augment InnoVenton’s production with an additional 400 litres.

Engineering Sub-Committee

This sub-committee’s focus is on providing engineering support to industry. It has been working on 3D printing of face shields (visors), as needed by hospitals, with a batch of 140 shields delivered to Livingstone Hospital on 4 April 2020 and a further 60 units to other organisations in the private sector.

The estimated need for face shields in the province is at 4 000. The University has increased printing capacity from 10 to 100 units a day, which will go a long way in speedily meeting the order of 600 units for Livingstone Hospital.

The engineering team is also engaging with other higher education institutions and entities on manufacturing initiatives for a range of other protective gear and respiratory devices.

ICT Solutions Sub-Committee

The University’s Centre for Community Technologies (CCT) has been working to develop mobile web-based applications as resources in this time. The Centre, in collaboration with North-West University and other partners, recently rolled out the Yabelana (Xhosa for ‘share’) App that has easily accessible information on what essential services are available in one’s surroundings during the lockdown.

The CCT, in partnership with the ICT industry, the provincial Health Department and the Nelson Mandela Bay Emergency Response team, is customising and, where required, developing smart digital solutions to assist with the capturing of patient data, tracing and tracking of COVID-19 positive patients.

#Mask4All

In terms of masks, colleagues in the faculties of Humanities, Science, Health Sciences, and Engineering, Built Environment and Technology, are working on a local movement to join the national and international campaign on producing and distributing non-medical masks.

Conclusion

As engagements with the provincial government, and other stakeholders continue, opportunities for various members of the University who wish to volunteer their skills and services will arise. We will keep the University community informed of developments in this regard, including the standard operating procedures we are conceptualising to frame our voluntary contributions.

We are busy developing an online portal where any of us can contribute ideas of how we can collectively lend our support.

In the meantime, we request that you send the Coordinating Committee any ideas you might have, on how, as Mandela University, we can respond practically, with agility and humanely. Please send your email to Dr Jenny du Preez (jenny.dupreez@mandela.ac.za)

I take this opportunity to thank the Coordinating Committee, and all members of the University, who have already come forward to respond to these urgent needs.

I also thank our academics, support staff of all levels and functional areas, and our students, for doing what they can, wherever they are, to make sure that our spirit of community emerges stronger after this challenging historical moment.

I wish you all good health at this time.

Professor Sibongile Muthwa

Vice-Chancellor: Nelson Mandela University

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777
Zandile.Mbabela@mandela.ac.za