Demonstrating its philosophy of partnering in its customers’ growth by carefully matching supply with customers’ changing requirements, Air Products South Africa has been supplying critical gases to the Natal Fertility Clinic and KZN Day Clinic, helping to enable its successful growth phase.
From modest beginnings, the Natal Fertility Clinic has grown exponentially over the four years it has been in existence, and has enjoyed a close partnership with Air Products every step of the way. This four year journey together culminated in the clinic awarding Air Products a long-term contract in December 2014 to supply high purity (HP) liquid nitrogen to facilitate the cryogenic storage of samples, as well as other medical and specialty gases.
“When we first approached Air Products, we had a very minor liquid nitrogen requirement. At the inception of our fertility clinic, our patient numbers were small, thus the demand for gases was minimal,” recalls Dr Christiaan Hoogendijk, a managing partner in the clinic and a qualified medical scientist and embryologist. “However, no matter how small our requirements, Air Products was always at hand, ensuring a timeous supply.”
The Natal Fertility Clinic, which opened its doors in November 2011, specialises in assisted fertility services for couples who are struggling to conceive naturally. The clinic has since expanded substantially and now shares premises with the KZN Day Clinic in Umhlanga, a new, R40m state-of-the-art, purpose-built facility.
Central to the fertility healthcare process is a reliable supply of HP liquid nitrogen for the cryogenic freezing of sperm samples, eggs and embryos. Jasper Allardice, Regional Sales Manager and Pravin Mohun, Sales Engineer at Air Products South Africa in KwaZulu-Natal were closely involved with the clinic from its inception.
“Back in 2011, we supplied the liquid nitrogen in dewars – gas storage flasks,” says Allardice. “Although only a small quantity of gas was originally required, Air Products was impressed by Dr Hoogendijk, his healthcare expertise and the ethical and professional way in which the clinic operated. We realised the clinic would grow in time, and we committed to be there for the journey,” he says.
“Ensuring that the gas was replenished timeously was critical, and was at times challenging. However, we persevered on the basis of our relationship with Dr Hoogendijk and the well-planned and exciting vision which he and his partners had for the clinic.”
In time, as the clinic increased its requirements for nitrogen, Air Products changed to its mini-tank mode of supply to meet demand. The company now ensures uninterrupted supply through the delivery of liquid nitrogen in mini-tanks and ensures continuous replenishment of back-up cylinders on site at all times,” adds Mohun.
In supplying industrial gases to a wide variety of sectors, Air Products prides itself not only on its high-quality HP gases for specialised applications, but on its commitment to security of supply for its long-term customers. The company’s decision to partner with the KZN Day Clinic and Natal Fertility Clinic is also in line with its overall growth strategy within the country’s healthcare sector.
Apart from HP liquid nitrogen, Air Products now also supplies the clinic with medical and laboratory gases (including nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, argon and medical oxygen) as well as its patented built-in-purifier (BIP) technology.
Medical oxygen and nitrous oxide are used for patients undergoing surgical procedures, and carbon dioxide creates the correct atmosphere in the incubator. A reliable gas supply also drives the consistent supply of nitrogen to the embryo culture system in the laboratory, in effect mimicking the atmosphere in the uterus.
“The health of the embryos that we grow and develop in our laboratories ultimately determines the health of the babies they will grow into. A consistent, reliable supply of gases is critical to the process, and ultimately to growing healthy foetuses,” comments Hoogendijk. “The quality and purity of gases is also critically important to the healthy development of the embryos.”
In tandem with the gases of highest purity supplied by Air Products, it is critical that the clinic operates a ‘clean room’ environment, notes Hoogendijk. “Embryos do not yet have an immune system of any kind, and therefore can only be allowed to come into contact with gases and compounds of the highest purity,” he emphasises.
The Natal Fertility Clinic is not only involved with assisted fertility services, but specialises in other laboratory work, including pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and other medical research, forming part of a wider international network of highly respected medical research.
“Partnerships have been critical to our success, and we highly appreciate the way in which Air Products, in particular, have taken steps to ensure total peace of mind for us.
They have taken the time and effort to get to know me and my team and how we operate, and have supported us every step of the way along this exciting fertility healthcare journey. We are delighted to have them on board as a long-term gas supply partner,” Hoogendijk concludes.