FirstRand establishes SPIRE: The South African Pandemic Intervention and Relief Effort

30 March 2020 FirstRand

Leveraging the group’s capacity and capabilities to assist with South Africa’s response to COVID-19

Today FirstRand Limited announced the objectives of its SPIRE intervention and relief effort, which aims to assist Government and its partners in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 rapidly and at scale. As such, SPIRE is working closely with, and in support of, the Solidarity Response Fund and other industry and sector initiatives.

FirstRand has so far allocated an anchor investment of R100 million to SPIRE, funded by the FirstRand Foundations, FNB and RMB. SPIRE’s immediate objective is to accelerate the scaling of South Africa’s
COVID-19 critical care capacity over the next few weeks and is particularly focused on supporting 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 believes this objective is achievable as the group has been able to quickly mobilise FNB, RMB and WesBank’s corporate and commercial customer bases, and the bank’s payments platforms and governance structures will ensure funding is deployed effectively.

Commenting on SPIRE’s vision, Mary Vilakazi, FirstRand COO, said that the initiative demonstrated the value that can be unlocked through partnerships between governments, 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.”

SPIRE has already funded 100 000 UltraGene COVID-19 test kits to assist The National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) accelerate testing. These were secured through the networks of Right to Care, which is a non-profit organisation supporting the prevention, treatment and care of HIV and related diseases.

Right to Care secured a supply of these test kits from Europe. They were developed by Emory University and Berlin Academia, manufactured by Advanced Biological Laboratories (ABL) 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. SPIRE contributed R20 million to bring these kits into South Africa, with the first shipment scheduled to land today, Monday, 30 March 2020. Following extensive engagement with medical specialists, it is expected that these tests will be validated by the NHLS and Lancet Laboratories.

SPIRE is also standing by to fund further shipments of frontline protective clothing, respirators and ventilators as part of current BUSA and Solidarity Response Fund initiatives.

“This is just the beginning of what we believe we can do to combat the impact of COVID-19 where it matters most, in our healthcare system,” said Vilakazi. “We are really humbled by the willingness of all the stakeholders involved to help our country respond in such an effective and innovative manner.”

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