Lesotho to produce PPE for SADC

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Bereng Mpaki

THE United Nations Technology Bank is finalising talks with three local textile factories to start producing surgical (N95) masks to boost Lesotho and the southern Africa region’s capacity to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was revealed by UN Technology Bank managing director Joshua Setipa in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week.

A former minister of Trade and Industry in Lesotho, Mr Setipa said the aim was to ensure that life-saving protective personal equipment (PPE) is available immediately at an affordable cost.

The UN Technology Bank is a new global organisation, dedicated to enhancing the contribution of science, technology and innovation for sustainable development in the world’s 47 least developed countries.

It supports national and regional technological efforts in least developed countries, reinforcing partnerships across sectors and helping nations identify and use appropriate technologies to transform their economies and improve livelihoods.

Mr Setipa said Lesotho as a least developed country, is at an advantage of producing the N95 masks as it already has an established textile manufacturing base.

He said the UN Technology Bank would assist the factories with manufacturing technology and technical skills for production of World Health Organisation (WHO) standard masks.

“We are discussing with three Lesotho clothing manufacturers who have expressed interest in producing N95 masks for the region,” Mr Setipa said.

“The discussions have been going on for three weeks and we hope to reach a conclusion in the next four weeks, so that we can provide them with the necessary manufacturing technology and technical knowhow to produce the masks.”

He said shipping of production machinery into the country would follow the signing of agreements with the companies.

“Realistically, we should be beginning production by the first week of October. We are working hard to ensure that this happens to show the world that we can export more than just clothing.”

He said the initiative is being done under their Tech Access Partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and WHO.

“The four organisations came together to support least developed countries to build their capacity to manufacture PPE such as masks and medical gowns among others for frontline health workers and also patients to reduce Covid-19 infection.”

Mr Setipa said the three factories would be equipped to produce a total of 100 000 masks a day. He said the initiative would empower budding manufacturers with the manufacturing technology and skills.

“We believe in empowering small companies and the companies we are supporting are Basotho- owned, which means the capacity and skills they will learn of producing PPE will remain in the country after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As a technology bank, we know that technology is expensive. So, we were able to negotiate with technology holders to obtain the technology and make it available to countries that need it for free.”

One N95 masks costs about US$12 (about M200) and producing the masks locally would bring the price down by US$2 (about M33.5).

Mr Setipa said his organisation’s intervention was particularly important because it will help stimulate the country’s economic recovery from Covid-19 shocks.

“The UN Technology Bank is willing to support and work with Lesotho and other least developed countries to reduce their dependence on global suppliers and ensure that they do not pay exorbitantly for PPE which they can manufacture locally.

Mr Setipa said the Bank is also supporting other countries like Uganda to produce other medical equipment such as ventilators and diagnostic kits with the assistance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

They are also in talks with other countries like Sudan and Botswana to assist in building their capacity for producing PPE.

“South Africa is also one of our partners in producing ventilators.  We are negotiating for a factory in Durban to manufacture ventilators at a cost of less than M10 000 down from almost M80 000,” Mr Setipa said.

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