Corporate South Africa is being called upon to join an emergency drive to get medical face masks to all those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic across the country.

The drive is being spearheaded by Syntech, a Cape Town-based tech distribution company with a 17-year track record in importing state-of-the-art, high-grade equipment to South Africa. Syntech is currently facilitating large-scale bulk imports of essential, high-quality medical gear, starting with masks, to assist the private sector and the National Department of Health to get masks to all those that need it most.

Ryan Martyn, co-founder of Syntech, explains the urgency of the initiative: “With the announcement of the nation-wide lockdown by President Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa is taking the right steps to come together and combat COVID-19. We must still consider that South Africa runs the risk of far worse infection rates than other countries, due to the vulnerability of our population which is burdened with high rates of diabetes, tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, cancer and other illnesses. It’s important for the private sector to take the necessary steps to prevent South Africa from following the same infection rate trajectory as Italy. Medical face masks may be a useful tool to help.”

The Health Ministry is on a drive to, amongst other things, increase the provision of masks to those already infected or those caring for infected individuals to minimise the spread of the virus. Since infection numbers will keep rising, this drive is more important than ever. Health and other essential services will continue operating during the national lockdown, so medical face masks remain an urgent requirement.

As a preventative measure, many of Syntech’s suppliers in China have reported that their customer-facing employees are wearing masks to slow down the spread of COVID-19 post-lockdown.

Says Martyn: “We need to come together as a society right now to stem the infection rate by providing free single use masks to as many health workers and others that need it most, as quickly as possible, over the next few days. Help us, Corporate South Africa.

“For every minimum order of 2 000 masks that you place for your own people and communities, we will donate an additional 200 masks to the office of the Director-General of Health for distribution to their frontline staff. If our country’s corporates collectively order a million masks, our first responders will get 100 000 free masks.”

Syntech is currently taking bulk pre-orders for a minimum of 2 000, single-use medical face masks per batch, at only R14 a mask or R28 000 per batch. The same masks are retailing in supermarkets for over R30 a mask.

The masks are single-use, medical face masks that should be used by those already infected or those caring for infected individuals to minimise the chance of transmission. This is because face masks are especially effective at preventing the wearer from spreading droplets that are transmitted when sneezing or coughing. As soon as they are wet or have been removed they should be safely disposed of.

Healthy individuals should practice social distancing and increased hygiene practices. It is not necessary to wear a mask if you are healthy unless you are caring for someone with COVID-19. Limiting use to these circumstances also ensures that there are enough masks for health workers and those already ill, thus helping circumvent the spread of COVID-19 in affected communities. Society needs to prioritise individuals and environments that are most in need of this equipment.

To ensure that the logistics infrastructure is not crippled by the demand, Syntech will process only bulk orders for masks at this stage and are relying on customers to assist with distributing smaller quantities to the people that want or need them. The company is also looking into importing additional critical medical products and is currently investigating whether it can ensure excellent quality, sustainable supply, and fair pricing for the South African market if it was to import additional products.

For now, corporate businesses are encouraged to buy masks for their people and communities, in order to help mitigate the spread of the virus across the country, and to help us spread the word to their corporate peers on the importance of giving back during this difficult time for the country. There is also an option to donate orders to the Department of Health on the website.

“We are selling the masks at very close to cost price, and with great urgency, because our goal is to get as many masks into the population as fast as possible in order to save as many lives as possible,” says Martyn.

Syntech is taking pre-orders on https://medical.syntech.co.za to enable them to gauge demand, speed up the import process, and to ensure that all organisations that need stock are geared to get stock. The first 500 000 medical face masks have been ordered and will hopefully arrive in South Africa by next week. Syntech will continue to place orders with factories, aligned with demand, through their website. The public is invited to visit the website for its repository of credible information about COVID-19, from sources such as Johns Hopkins Medicine in the United States and the World Health Organisation.