Navigating through a global pandemic and a nationwide lockdown to import masks was never going to be easy.
Akacia Medical & Healthcare Group is a South African private company that markets and distributes medical and surgical devices and related consumables to hospitals, wholesalers and retail pharmacies.
Akacia Medical turned to JIMBU to assist them with importing 3 ply masks (PPE) in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa. Akacia’s challenge arose as there was a shortage of essential products within South Africa as well as from their regular suppliers as a result of the worldwide surge in demand. Surgical masks are used to prevent the spread of respiratory infections and are part of the personal protective equipment (PPE) used by health workers to protect them from potentially contracting the virus. Meeting the demand for face masks became one of the main issues for governments and the private sector around the world in fighting the pandemic. Due to the number of masks that were requested, they would have to be imported, as the local suppliers were experiencing severe shortages themselves. The challenge that we faced was that the borders had closed for travel, the exchange rate spiked (USD: ZAR), production facilities were at capacity, Chinese customs were continuously changing policies on essential products, and the cost of airfreight more than doubled as a result of the demand! And on top of this, our South African and Chinese teams were all working from home under lockdown!
Our South African team obtained an ITAC certificate as soon as we could. This, together with our importer’s license, would exempt duties and VAT, allowing us to meet Akacia’s guide price per mask.
When it comes to the importing of essential products, the correct documentation must be obtained. Our team in Guangzhou were able to source a reliable factory that has specialised in producing 3 ply medical and non-medical masks for the last eleven years. After receiving and validating all the necessary documentation that included the business license, CE and FDA documentation, product certificate, and test reports, we outsourced a third party inspection agency to undertake a Pre-Production Inspection (PPI) of the factory. Thereafter, the same inspection company would inspect samples of the produced products a further 3 times, to ensure their continued quality.
During production, the Chinese regulators announced new requirements for exports of medical and non-medical masks. These policy changes included a joint declaration between the exporter and the importer to confirm that the exported products meet the quality standards of China or the foreign country. The product certificate would also need to be positioned under the masks within each box. As trivial as this may seem, it meant that we had to stop production, remove all the masks from all the boxes and include the product certificate at the bottom of each box, before packing each box again. This process set us back for two days! Without the experience and expertise of our Chinese team, who worked remotely with the factory, to resolve these hurdles and streamline the production runs, it’s highly unlikely that such a complex order would have been facilitated so seamlessly.
The last piece in the puzzle was shipping. Due to the urgent nature of this order, air freighting the product to South Africa was the only option. We secured space on a flight, insured the cargo, and flew in the order to South Africa. All our accredited and correct documents meant that the order was cleared at customs within a few days and no delays were experienced. For security reasons, the cargo was split into five separate shipments and they were delivered to the final destination all travelling unique routes, all the while, being accompanied, by armed security guards to ensure the goods were safely delivered, as these items had become hot property for hijackers.
Navigating through a global pandemic and a nationwide lockdown to import masks was never going to be easy. We had the opportunity to take this challenge on and to provide an essential service. We successfully imported masks during lockdown level one in South Africa and ultimately satisfied Akacia Medical’s urgent request.