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In Battle, Without Armour – India’s tryst with PPE

In Battle, Without Armour – India’s tryst with PPE

Since the coronavirus tragedy struck the world, nations have been on a war footing to defeat the virus. While one-third of the world’s population is confined to their homes, there are several individuals battling the crisis on frontline and without armour: doctors, nurses, journalists, reporters, sweepers etc. Health care workers, especially, are among the most vulnerable group of citizens. Their daily interaction with infected patients puts them in high-risk situations, thus maintaining their safety under such circumstances is extremely important.

One way of ensuring the safety of health care workers working with Covid-19 patients has been through the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). PPE refers to equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards and protect the user against health or safety risks at work. It includes items like safety helmets, gloves, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear & safety harnesses, respiratory protective equipment etc. Healthcare personnel rely on personal protective equipment to protect themselves and their patients from being infected.

PPE has been widely discussed in news lately due to an emerging supply shortage. The supply of PPE remains challenging during Covid-19. A lot of western nations, such as US & UK have struggled to secure enough PPE for healthcare staff at hospitals, resulting in protests & strikes. Further, there have been other bottlenecks like transport & shipping constraints caused by lockdown & roadblock measures, limited workforce capacity due to illness etc.

There are several factors contributing to this mayhem. Surging demand, partly joined with panic buying, hoarding, and misuse of personal protective equipment (PPE) amid the pandemic, is one of the factors disrupting global supplies. The dramatic rise in demand for surgical masks, goggles, gloves, and gowns has depleted stockpiles, prompted significant price increases, and led to production backlogs of 4–6 months in fulfilling orders.

Secondly, there are imports and exports restrictions being imposed by nations creating trade barriers. This has created disruptions for nations that are heavily reliant on imports. In the United States, for instance, 95% of surgical masks and 70% of respirators are produced overseas.  According to a recent quarterly report released by the International Trade Centre (ITC), the world’s supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is highly concentrated in five countries; China, United States, Germany, Malaysia and Vietnam. These five countries alone make up nearly two thirds of the global PPE exports, with China in the lead (As reported by ITC, in 2018, China alone had exported 46% of the world PPE exports). Thus factory shutdowns and trade restrictions in these nations have a major impact on global supply chains leading to supply chain disruptions. Nearly 75% of the world supply is disrupted due to banned or restricted exports related to PPE.

An Illustration of PPE Supply Bottlenecks
Source: Asian Development Bank

As healthcare workers expose themselves to Covid-19 patients on a daily basis,  there is a significant risk to their health without protective equipment. This is also severely affecting the economy as prices of equipment have surged due to the crisis which renders some people unable to afford them. For instance, surgical masks have seen a six fold increase, N95 respirators have trebled and gowns have doubled. With consumers demanding years of supply in a short period of time and widespread market manipulation, there is a huge lag in delivery time frames. Also, stocks are often sold to the highest bidder while those at the lower end of the spectrum are left more vulnerable in the face of the crisis.

“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real. Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first”, said WHO Director Dr. Tedros Adhanom. WHO has so far shipped nearly half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 47 countries, but given the high global demand, these resources are depleting fast. Based on WHO modeling, an estimated 89 million medical masks are required for the COVID-19 response each month. For examination gloves, that figure goes up to 76 million, while international demand for goggles stands at 1.6 million per month. They estimate that industry must increase manufacturing by 40 per cent. One possible way of meeting this demand, suggests WHO, is that governments should develop incentives for industry to ramp up production. This includes easing restrictions on the export and distribution of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies.

This is a tough fight and industries & workers are working round the clock to meet with challenges. A globally well coordinated response is called for at the moment where countries support each other and are able to deliver to those in need.

About The Author

Srishti Tiku

Srishti is a graduate in Behavioral Economic Science from University of Warwick, UK, and is passionate about using her knowledge to decipher sustainability challenges through research and analysis. As Economics attempts to explain the processes that shape lives and livelihoods, Srishti finds it fascinating to learn about emerging patterns while wading her way through issues engulfing people, planet and profit. When she is not at desk, she loves to read and watch movies.

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