Careers

Safety syringes: Local engineer to open first plant in southern Africa

2015-10-18 15:58

Johannesburg - Jonas Gutu, a KwaZulu-Natal-born engineer, will become the first manufacturer of hypodermic disposable syringes and needles in southern Africa when his plant opens shop next year.

Gutu, a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and MBA graduate, has secured R75m in funding to build a plant in Coega, Eastern Cape, where he plans to employ 300 people once the plant is operational.

The 43-year-old hopes his 15 years of experience working in pharmaceutical and medical-device manufacturing companies will stand him in good stead as he prepares to set up the first medical-devices manufacturer based in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Gutu said the idea to open a plant came to him in 2010 while working for medical specialists Boston Scientific in Massachusetts, US.

“I was snowed in and could not go to work. That day, I began doing a desktop study on manufacturers around the world and found that the SADC did not have one.

“The prefeasibility study, which started as a mere interest, lasted for two years. I am a risk taker by nature, so I left a highly lucrative job as a senior engineer in the US and came home,” said Gutu.

Gutu immediately registered Kenako Medical and approached the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

His idea was a South African first – manufacturing syringes that cannot be reused, thus eliminating the risks associated with infections being transmitted by used syringes and needles.

But before the IDC responded, he approached the National Empowerment Fund (NEF), which took him up on his idea.

“Luckily, they believed in me and my vision from the start. The NEF came in as an extremely active joint venture partner and took the dreaded early risk.

“Our major focus will be on safety syringes, which prevent needlestick injuries, thereby preventing the transmission of blood-borne pathogens like hepatitis C and B, Ebola and HIV,” said Gutu.

The syringes are endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has mandated the use of safety syringes across the world by 2020.

“The local syringe manufacturing business will enable South Africa and the SADC region at large to comply with the WHO’s safety-syringe mandate,” said Gutu.

Construction of the plant begins early next year and it will be in operation by December 2016.

He said until the SA Health Products Regulatory Agency, which will scrutinise medical manufacturers that are unregulated, including medical devices and diagnostics, came into effect, South Africa would continue to experience massive dumping of low-quality and highly subsidised medical products from China and elsewhere.

“[The regulatory agency] is set to stop dumping and will, over time, become like the US Food and Drug Administration, with a view to ensuring that consumers are provided with safe and high-quality medical devices,” said Gutu.

Another positive development was that polypropylene, a major raw material for the manufacture of syringes, was produced locally by Sasol, said Gutu.

“A lot of raw materials will also be procured locally. We will be on track to becoming a formidable medical-devices manufacturing hub outside China, India and the Western world.

“We are engaging with the department of trade and industry and the health department, and we find them to be very supportive and helpful,” he said.

Setlakalane Molepo, NEF executive for the small and medium enterprises and rural development division, said all relevant certificates had been granted.

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