The Eastern Cape is the poorest province  in South Africa. It is also under resourced and run by what appears to be, on the surface, policymakers who are incompetent and couldn’t be bothered that they are. As far as the COVID-19 pandemic goes, the province is nothing short of a disaster waiting to blow up.

It was with interest a few days ago that I observed the social media chatter around the province’s new “innovation” that is meant to assist with healthcare. Specifically, transporting patients in hard to reach parts of the province (thanks to no roads, badly maintained roads, or no one ever bothering to build a road). The innovation - motorbike ambulances.

Many South Africans criticized this “innovation” mostly claiming they look shoddy. So much was the criticism that the National Health Department issued a statement to “clarify.” I resisted indulging my ego and joining in the chorus of social media criticism because I am not a mechanical engineer and cannot honestly comment on the engineering work done. However, the price tag caught my attention. At R94,000 (about $5,472) a bike, excluding maintenance, it sounded rather steep.

It turned out my initial instinct was correct.

The "South African innovation and design" appears to be a product available for purchase on Alibaba.com a a far lower price tag. It is also listed as a motorbike ambulance being used in Malawi. The whole unit is manufactured in China.

Not only did I earlier today find out that the motorbike ambulances sell for $1,000 a bike (if you order 100 bikes, which is the exact number of motorbike ambulances that the Eastern Cape said it has deployed), I also discovered that they had been operating the same bikes in Malawi and Mozambique for several years. Now, we can argue about why the South African government is not building roads, clinics, and hospitals, but for the purposes of this issue of the newsletter, I wanted to highlight how, during a crisis, some people see an opportunity to exploit in the name of “innovation.”

My concern doesn’t stop with the obvious exorbitant markup on the motorbike ambulances, but also with someone in South Africa claiming to be the manufacturer and innovator behind the motorbike ambulances. To quote an SABC article:

The initiative by the Eastern Cape Department of Health is the first of its kind. The department hopes the 100 motorbikes will improve its capacity to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the province…The manufacturer of the bikes say their product is effective over terrain where ambulances struggle. Brian Harmse of FABKOMP says there are different applications for the motorbikes.

Perhaps Harmse and FABKOMP, by some miracle, came up with exactly the same motorbike ambulances (I mean, 100% exactly the same) and decided to manufacture them. Or, perhaps Harmse and FABKOMP came across incompetent and “co-operative” policymakers who were amazed by this “innovation.”

A simple Google Image Search could’ve showed them, assuming they didn’t know, that the motorbike ambulances are available in China for far cheaper. That’s if they were interested in knowing.

Above all, with government procurement process relaxed to accommodate the crisis we are in, I just suspect it is a case of never wasting a crisis (to make a quick buck).

Quote of the day

“We’re making sending money to loved ones as easy as sending a message, which could not be more important as people are physically distant from one another.” - WhatsApp (Tweet this)

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