A $1.4 million, 40-bed field hospital donated to South Africa by the United States has been set up in Mahikeng, the capital of the country’s Northwest Province to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hospital was purchased by U.S. Africa Command through the command’s Humanitarian Assistance Program, and the transfer of the hospital to South African officials was facilitated by personnel from the United States Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.
Mahikeng, previously known as Mafikeng, was chosen as the location for the hospital by Dr. Zweli Mkhize, South Africa’s Health Minister, because of an increase in COVID-19 cases in the province in recent weeks.
"The donation of this field hospital is timely given that our scientists are anticipating a possible second wave of COVID infections in February,” said Jeanette R. Hunter, the Deputy Director General for Primary Health Care at the South African National Department of Health.
As of November 5, the Mahikeng Provincial Hospital had only 4 negative pressure isolation beds with which to treat 28 COVID patients.
Negative pressure beds are maintained in rooms isolated from the rest of a facility. The air pressure inside these rooms is maintained at a lower level than outside areas. This keeps air—which could be contaminated—from flowing out when a door is opened.
In order to ensure there were enough beds to treat COVID 19 patients, 90 beds were shifted from other purposes. This restricted the hospital’s ability to treat other patients, according to Hunter.
The new field hospital has 40 beds isolated by negative pressure, which will free up beds for other patients.
The hospital can operate autonomously and is equipped with eight air conditioning units equipped with high efficiency particulate air filtration and ultraviolet light scrubber systems to control infections. Two 2,300 kilowatt generators provide power and the system includes toilets showers and a limited reception area.
"The fight against COVID-19 in South Africa is not over and that's why this state-of-the-art field hospital donation from the American people, through AFRICOM, is especially timely,” said U.S. Ambassador Lana J. Marks.
“We once again commend the South African government and Minister Mkhize, who personally chose Mahikeng as the location for this facility, on their response to the pandemic, which the United States government has been honored to support,” Marks added.
The field hospital was set up during the latter portion of October and transferred to the South African government during a ribbon ceremony on October 26.
AFRICOM sent a team of civilian trainers to assist South African medical and support teams selected to run the mobile hospital on its assembly, set up, facilitation, transportation, and storage.
African Command has purchased seven 40- bed and seven 30-Bed Negative Pressure Isolation Hospitals for African partners.
That funding also included paying for manufacturer representatives to train and assist each country's medical and support personnel with the system's assembly, operation, and storage.
AFRICOM's support to COVID-19 response and mitigation efforts began in late March and early April, as the first signs of COVID-19 infections emerged.
The military’s Humanitarian Assistance Program helps partner nations build their disaster readiness, response and mitigation capabilities. The program funds infrastructure, equipment and training to help nations prepare before disasters and crises strike, but also supports countries who request assistance from the U.S. government when they experience health and weather-related emergencies.
COVID-19 assistance projects are funded under HAP to support requests from partner nations for supplies and equipment needed to respond to the virus outbreak, treat infected patients and prevent additional exposure. The U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development review the projects and concur with their proposed assistance before they are approved, according to embassy officials.
All COVID-19 assistance items donated under the program are purchased first from host-nation or regional suppliers and those purchased elsewhere do not impact the priorities established by the Department of Defense that effect US Forces.
On Nov. 11, South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa will open up travel to all countries in an effort to boost the tourism and hospitality sectors.
“Since the beginning of this crisis, our goal was both to save lives and protect livelihoods," Ramaphosa said. "As we rebuild our country in the midst of this pandemic, this must remain our overriding concern."
"Although infections have stabilized, many people are still getting infected every day and we remain vulnerable," the president said.