RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco has started manufacturing its own ventilators with oxygen masks, with 500 expected to be ready by mid-April to help meet demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Industry Ministry said.
The North African kingdom has confirmed 1,431 cases of the novel coronavirus, including 105 deaths, and is seeking to raise the number of its intensive care beds to 3,000 from 1,640.
The pandemic has led to a global shortage of ventilators and other medical equipment.
Morocco’s Industry Ministry has asked aeronautics and electronics suppliers in the country to develop and manufacture both non-invasive ventilators, where an oxygen mask is secured over the patient’s face, and invasive models where a tube feeds oxygen straight to a sedated patient’s lungs.
The first 500 non-invasive ventilators will be ready in about a week, the ministry said in an email to Reuters.
“We use locally supplied material available here and we will continue to produce ventilators depending on Morocco’s needs,” said Badre Jaafar, director of SERMP, a Casablanca-based company that supplies parts to French aircraft engine maker Safran.
It worked with a group of other companies, coordinated by the Industry Ministry and with help from the Health Ministry and other public bodies.
The government, which has imposed a lockdown to slow the spread of the disease, said last month it had allocated $200 million to buy equipment and medicine to prepare for the crisis.
Doctors and engineers from public institutions helped design the non-invasive ventilator that is already under production, capable of 3,000 hours of use, and the Health Ministry approved the design.
They are now working to develop an invasive ventilator.
Morocco has around 140 aeronautics suppliers that employ more than 10,000 people and last year exported $1.58 billion of parts to companies including Boeing and Airbus.
Neither the ministry nor the companies have said how much investment has been required or on what commercial terms the ventilators are being manufactured. The ministry said it had instigated the project but the private sector is now leading it.
“I hope this will be a launch pad for the medical industry in the country,” Jaafar said.
Morocco has offered financial support for small businesses producing anti-coronavirus equipment and made wearing masks compulsory earlier this week.
Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by Angus McDowall and Hugh Lawson