FirstRand establishes R100m Pandemic Intervention Relief Effort

By Sandile Mchunu Time of article published Mar 31, 2020

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DURBAN - JSE-listed financial services group FirstRand yesterday established a R100 million South African Pandemic Intervention and Relief Effort (Spire) fund to assist the government and its partners in mitigating the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic.

The group said Spire was funded by the FirstRand Foundations, FNB and RMB and was working closely with the Solidarity Response Fund and other industry and sector initiatives.

President Cyril Ramaphosa started the Solidarity Response Fund in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, so that individuals and organisations can support efforts through secure tax-deductible donations.

The group said Spire’s immediate objective was to accelerate the scaling of South Africa’s Covid-19 critical care capacity over the next few weeks and support the medical structures and resources of the country, particularly, those responsible for providing testing, front-line protective care, ventilators and addressing critical bed capacity.

FirstRand chief operating officer Mary Vilakazi said the initiative demonstrated the value that could be unlocked through partnerships between the government, foundations and the financial and operational capacity within the private sector.

“As a large financial services group, particularly given the valuable capabilities of our businesses, we can augment the current government and other national relief initiatives. Our platforms, client relationships and payment channels can be scaled rapidly,” Vilakazi said.

Spire had already funded 100000 UltraGene Covid-19 test kits to assist the National Health Laboratory Services’ accelerate testing. These were secured through the networks of Right to Care, which is an NGO supporting the prevention, treatment and care of HIV and related diseases. The group said Right to Care had secured a supply of these test kits from Europe.

“They were developed by Emory University and Berlin Academia, manufactured by Advanced Biological Laboratories and the test can run on existing platforms in South Africa. Once at the relevant laboratory, the turnaround time for the test is in the region of 2.5 hours,” the group said.

Spire had already contributed R20m to bring these kits into South Africa, with the first shipment scheduled to land yesterday.

Spire was also planning to fund further shipments of front-line protective clothing, respirators and ventilators as part of Business Unity South Africa and the Solidarity Fund response initiatives.

Vilakazi said this was just the beginning of what they believed they could do to combat the impact of Covid-19 where it mattered most, in South Africa’s health-care system.

“We are really humbled by the willingness of all the stakeholders involved to help our country respond in such an effective and innovative manner,” she said.

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