The U.S Embassy Pretoria Office of Defense Cooperation has provided 12,400 protective masks to the South African National Defence Force’s South African Military Health Service to assist in South Africa’s effort to combat the COVID19 virus.
“This donation of potentially life-saving masks is indicative of the respect and value we hold for our partnership with South Africa and SANDF’s Military Health Service. Their COVID-19 response has been commendable, and we support them on this crucial mission of supporting the people of South Africa,” said U.S. Ambassador Lana Marks.
The locally produced masks were delivered to the Pretoria Military District, Thaba Tshwane, by Embassy personnel on Thursday, April 23. This is the first in a series of planned deliveries of personal protective equipment (PPE). The FFP2 (filtering face piece particles) respirator masks are approved by the European Union and are the equivalent of the N95 respirator mask used in the United States.
“The availability of PPE is of great concern, not only for us [but] world-wide. Everyone is struggling to obtain PPE, therefore this donation of such in demand equipment will go a long way in harmonizing and cementing the relationship between our two countries,” added South African Military Health Service Deputy Surgeon General, Maj. Gen. Noel Ndhlovu. Republic of South Africa President, Cyril Ramaphosa has deployed the South African National Defence Force until June in the fight to contain the COVID 19 virus.
Earlier this month, both U.S. and South African military authorities discussed how best the U.S. government could assist. These discussions included members from the Department of Defense, the United States Agency of International Development and the United States Embassy Economic Office. They determined the best use of US resources would be in helping South Africa obtain personal protective equipment or PPE, like the masks.
“The South African National Defence Force and South African Military Health Service are key components of the national COVID-19 response. The United States Department of Defense is excited to assist our South African partners by procuring locally sourced PPE. We hope this cements the strong relationship we share, and that the PPE will save South African lives,” said U.S. Navy Cap. Steven Morgenfeld, Senior Defense Attaché at the U.S. Embassy.
This initial contribution of equipment comes in the wake of regular and increasing financial assistance contributions from the United States to South Africa to combat COVID-19. To date, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) has committed US$13.2 million in funding, along with $8.4 million in assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), announced last week. This brings the total United States government commitment to the COVID-19 response in South Africa to over US$21.5 million (R410 million). Additionally, through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the United States is providing up to 5400 community healthcare workers to help lead the South African government’s community COVID 19 screening campaign and support HIV treatment adherence on the front lines.
“ODC jumped at the opportunity to support our partners at SAMHS with whom we have great working relationship. As military servicemembers ourselves, we understand that there is no more noble mission than protecting your countrymen and women from threats—in whatever form they present themselves, so we tailored our assistance to quickly donate the critical equipment that will help them succeed in that mission,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Darrick Mosley, Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation at the embassy said.
The US Africa Command has authorized the use of humanitarian assistance funds to purchase PPE items such as N95 masks and face shields. These are deemed essential items, but not part of the U. S. military supply chain. This made it more difficult to provide PPE to South Africa.
U.S. Africa Command is working to procure face shields for SANDF use as well.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is providing technical assistance to South Africa’s National Department of Health (NDoH) and National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to help contain the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact in South Africa.
These efforts include work by public health experts to assist our partners in developing guidelines for risk communication, identification, isolation, testing, and contact tracing for persons under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19. The U.S. CDC is also developing a virus shedding protocol to estimate disease burden, risk factors, and transmission dynamics, which will help inform public health protocols to stop transmission of the disease and save lives.
The United States Department of Defense is well-practiced in providing humanitarian assistance when required. The U.S. military has provided relief supplies, personnel and equipment following natural disasters in Indonesia, Japan, Haiti, the Philippines, Liberia, and Mozambique in recent years.