In these days of the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” news cycle, the spotlight on COVID-19 has begun to fade as humans fly to space and protests roil across the globe. Nonetheless, the pandemic has persisted, with thousands of new cases recorded every day. The science tells us that it’s simply too soon to stop caring.
In late April, the bridge ventilator our team designed for COVID-19 paients received Emergency Use Authorization from the federal government, and we immediately began making deliveries to California’s Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) for distribution to hospitals and healthcare workers. Since then, we’ve manufactured hundreds of units at our Long Beach facility, while also seeking ways to get the device into the hands of underserved and undersupplied communities around the world.
To that end, South African President and African Union Chair Cyril Ramaphosa announced today that locally-produced ventilators of our design will be included on a new online procurement platform for the COVID-19 supplies and devices, called the Africa Medical Supplies Platform. Virgin Orbit has provided all of our design and manufacturing insight pro-bono to South African manufacturer Invicta Holdings, who will build, support and distribute the bridge ventilators throughout Africa.
Thanks to the support of Strive Masiyiwa (founder of Econet Global and an African Union Special Envoy) and Jeff Skoll (founder of eBay), 1,000 of these ventilators will be provided to hospitals and doctors in Africa completely free of charge. Invicta Holdings has pledged to produce a total of more than 10,000 ventilators at cost before the end of June.
Strive and his brilliant team led the creation of the online platform, which is available in four languages and essentially serves as a marketplace enabling equitable and efficient access to critical medical supplies for African governments and non-government organizations (NGOs). In addition to the ventilators, the platform will also feature patient monitors, lab machines, diagnostic test kits, PPE equipment, and more. A variety of partners from across the continent have stepped up to support the development of this Pan-African project, including the African Union, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Afreximbank, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), among others.
“We’ve been honored 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,” Sir Richard Branson said. “I’m so proud of the team at Virgin Orbit and at 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.”
“Even as we prepared for and completed our first launch demo, we never lost sight of the importance of this ventilator project. Our team has been pulling out all the stops because they know that one extra hour of work could mean saving someone’s life,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “We’re also very grateful to Richard, Jeff and Strive for their generosity and support. It’s thanks to their efforts that we can move quickly to ease the burden on the most vulnerable communities being ravaged by this pandemic.”