Coronavirus | CEOs ensure medical supplies, offer free data

Drugmaker, Aspen is in talks with the government to fast-track the production of certain key medicines.
Drugmaker, Aspen is in talks with the government to fast-track the production of certain key medicines.

South African companies are responding to the coronavirus outbreak with social initiatives as well as plans to keep their businesses operating smoothly.

Aspen Pharmacare, Africa’s biggest drugmaker, is in talks with the government to fast-track the production of certain key medicines so enough remain available for treating the sick, Chief Executive Officer Stephen Saad said in an interview.

With schools closed, mobile operator, Vodacom is offering online classes in all 11 South African languages and providing free data services to job-search portals, health sites and government services, the company said. MultiChoice has made certain news channels free to air and is broadcasting public-service announcements.

The initiatives follow President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision on March 15 to ban travelers from high-risk countries, close schools and restrict people from congregating in large groups to contain the virus. Just over 200 people have tested positive for the virus since travelers from disease hotspots such as Italy and France were first diagnoses earlier this month, putting pressure on a health system that also battles with high rates of HIV and tuberculosis.

"South Africa’s government has been very proactive and we are focused on supply continuity, which is critical," said Saad. "Most of our factories are sterile factories, so in that sense you are probably safer at work."

Flu Vaccines

While Aspen has seen a spike in demand in some of its over–the-counter pain, respiratory and colds and flu medicines, supply from China is almost back on track.

"You are starting to see a change in the mix of anesthetics needed, to more muscle-relaxant type anesthetics for respiratory issues," Saad said. "At the same time you’ve got to try get stock through closed borders. The biggest problem is logistics."

Eskom which has been struggling to keep the lights on, held off implementing rolling blackouts this week, and any future electricity cuts will only be implemented if absolutely necessary, the company said in a response to questions.

Absa, a lender that last week missed profit estimates on South Africa’s struggling economy, said it’s too soon to speculate on possible defaults on loans but is looking at ways to help customers should they find themselves in financial difficulty.

"We would like to heighten our call to our customers to approach us directly in the event of any form of uncertainty, including financial distress," said Arrie Rautenbach, the CEO at Absa Retail and Business Banking.

With assistance from Paul Burkhardt and Roxanne Henderson

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