Video conference of the participants of the Study Trips to Africa

April 8, 2020

On April 8, the Global Bridges motto “We go there” was temporarily changed to “We zoom there”. In an almost 90-minute online video conference, 15 participants of the last two Study Trips to the African continent discussed the current situation in Ethiopia as well as approaches to support the country in this situation.

After a month of social distancing, all participants were looking forward to the virtual meeting. Dr Claudia Winterstein opened the discussion with an overview of the current Corona situation in Africa: The first positive tested Corona case occurred in Egypt on February 14. Since then the development has been rapid. As of April 8, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) counted 10,000 confirmed infections and 500 fatal courses of the disease COVID-19 on the African continent. The catalogue of measures taken by individual countries ranges from imposing a national curfew (Rwanda) to releasing 4,000 prisoners and postponing parliamentary elections (Ethiopia).

Subsequently, our member Dr. Philipp Schuller, together with his guest Stephan Willms, presented the project “10,000 ventilators for Ethiopia“, which was started by their initiative Africa Enablers. The project is intended to respond to the chronic funding shortage and inadequate equipment of the Ethiopian health system. In particular, the subordinate access to ventilators in comparison to major international powers had to be countered by local production of a clinical ventilator for oxygen supply.

About 80 percent of the components are to be produced locally, about 10-15 percent are to be manufactured with 3D printers and only a small part is to be imported via international supply chains. This is possible because the product should be adapted to medical needs and the level of training of the staff. A team of 10 engineers is currently examining the user-specific requirements and testing the availability of comparable preliminary products on the Ethiopian market.

The project has already received much approval and support from official bodies such as ministries and the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). For example, GIZ formed a special task force to enable decisions to be made within a few days. Nevertheless, it is still necessary to secure financing (talks are underway, i.e. with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)). Furthermore, in order to bypass bureaucratic hurdles, it would be an advantage to obtain the necessary certification of the product in Germany.

The fact that Ethiopia declared a national state of emergency on April 8 underlines the urgency of the situation. This means that far-reaching decisions, for example on more restrictions on public life, can be taken within 48 hours. The Ethiopian Government expects the pandemic to cause a severe economic slump, causing political unrest. The government estimates the consequences of the pandemic to be much more serious than the virus itself.

The long-term goal of the project is to help beyond the times of the Corona pandemic and to make sustainable investments in Africa. For this reason, the design of the ventilator and the production process will be made public – copying by third parties is explicitly desired. Earliest production start is at the end of May. At the same time a rollout in Mozambique, Kenya and Somalia is being considered. Expressions of interest have already been received.

Small tractors for smallholders
Global Bridges members Tobias Knoch and Elmar Stachels presented another interesting project with their initiative “Small tractors for African smallholders”. The visit to Ghana in autumn 2019 showed us that a farmer’s enthusiasm can only lead to limited success if there is a lack of mechanical equipment. An Ethiopian farmer cultivates on average between 1-3 hectares of land with the simplest tools.

There are two possible solutions: On the one hand, to provide high-quality tractors based on the model of a sharing service (such as via Hello Tractor). The disadvantage is that few tractors meet a high demand. Therefore, the second solution is considered to be more target-oriented: Equipment is produced and serviced locally and the whole thing has to be affordable for simple smallholders.

The feedback of the first video conference was very positive, so that the group of participants suggested to hold further calls in a time rhythm of about one month.