Two weeks after SA’s infamous Level Five lockdown began, I interviewed Iain Ambler, an engineer from Maritzburg. He was excited about the prospect of resuscitating his company’s manufacture of ventilators, desperately needed by the Department of Health because of a promised wave of Covid-19 hospitalisations. The product had been discontinued years earlier after corrupt gatekeepers in the public health system made local sales impossible.
This morning, Ambler’s business Graham Raynor at Clifford Engineering distributed a group email to say the ventilator has finally been certified by the SA Health Products Regulatory Agency. That it took seven months to approve a supposedly super-urgent life-saver during an apparent pandemic says much about SA’s bureaucracy. More to the point, with the panic over, demand has evaporated.
Raynor ends his missive with a hint of desperation: “Obviously we are keen to get some units out there…so any leads would be much appreciated”. Red tape appears to have throttled the Clifford OMNIVENT, which Raynor describes as the only SA-designed and manufactured ICU ventilator to be officially certified. Like its predecessor, despite a presidential call to arms a few months back to address a desperate need, the ventilators look to be headed for a storeroom.
Apart from the other obvious conclusions to be drawn from it, this story is a reminder that in business, timing is everything. Had Ambler and Raynor known it would take seven months before their ventilator would be sellable, they would not have bothered to dust off the blueprints. Hopefully someone, somewhere has learnt something from this.
For your attention today…
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