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Government ropes in universities to fight COVID-19

The Zimbabwe government has made available an initial ZW$33 million (U$S1.3 million, according to the official exchange rate) in seed capital to state universities to make personal protective equipment (PPE) to ameliorate a national shortage of the materials needed to fight the coronavirus.

On Tuesday last week the cabinet proposed that hand sanitisers and face masks be produced locally by institutions of higher learning and pharmaceutical companies.

According to Professor Amon Murwira, minister of higher and tertiary education, science and technology development, Chinhoyi University of Technology and Midlands State University have started producing face masks, while the University of Zimbabwe and Bindura University of Science Education are producing sanitisers.

Harare Institute of Technology has developed a ventilator and has the potential to make 40 per day, in addition to producing 1,000 litres of sanitiser a day.

Testing equipment

Murwira said the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) had started producing testing equipment for COVID-19.

NUST declined to respond to questions from University World News, but the university’s director of the Applied Genetic Testing Centre, Zephaniah Dhlamini, told the Bulawayo-based daily, the Chronicle, that the university had machines that can perform diagnostic testing for COVID-19. Dhlamini added that the university was waiting to satisfy some requirements before it could start testing.

The government has said the University of Zimbabwe has the capacity to produce 60,000 masks and 5,000 litres of sanitiser per day, while Midlands State University can produce 42,000 litres of sanitiser and 10,000 masks a month.

Zimbabwe’s national requirements for COVID-19 protection materials are not known, but the country has an acute shortage of ventilators, face masks, sanitisers and testing and isolation centres.

Community service

Murwira said universities were manufacturing PPE material as part of their community service to the nation during this time of crisis.

“Universities are not there for show. The anchor for all industrial production comes from the institutions of higher learning. As a nation we have refocused from education 3.0 to education 5.0, which basically means that universities must be able to produce goods and services. So, in times of crisis, we expect universities to join in the fight and not to sit at home,” he told University World News.

The universities have been deemed an essential service contributing to the fight against COVID-19; hence their ability to produce materials is not expected to be curtailed by the current national lockdown.

“The universities have volunteered to contribute to this cause because of their chemical engineering capability to make sanitisers and also because of their textile technology capability to help with face masks based on specifications that they are given by the ministry of health,” said Murwira.


Asked to vouch for quality of production, Murwira said he believed that the universities would do a good job.

“I don’t know where this question of quality is coming from, but universities are places with the country’s best brains, and if they are places with the best brains and they are giving all their graduates certificates including those at quality organisations, how can one doubt them?” he said.

Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) Director of Marketing and PR, Dr Musekiwa Tapera, confirmed the university was producing face masks through its Clothing and Textiles Unit, an internal facility that has always been involved with production of gowns and protective clothing for the market.

“So far we are producing between 2,500 and 3,500 masks per day, everything being equal, but we are sometimes constrained by load shedding. The Clothing and Textiles Unit is at an advanced stage to commence the production of sanitisers,” he told University World News.

Tapera said CUT had so far supplied heath-related institutions and was now gearing up to supply other government institutions such as the police and other public interface institutions, to help combat the spread of the virus.

As at 5 April, Zimbabwe, which went into national lockdown on 31 March to manage the coronavirus, has reported nine confirmed cases, including one death.

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Written by Tonderayi Mukeredzi,
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