In spring of 2020, many of us experienced the mass hysteria related to PPE. All of a sudden, surgical face masks, gloves, and disinfectant wipes became scarce. When you could find it, there were quantity restrictions and of course, mind-boggling pricing! Coordination and equal distribution of personal protective equipment has become a significant challenge in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic. The shortage of personal protective equipment has led to a rise in prices, making it even harder to acquire them.
The situation has exposed frontline medics to the danger of contracting the virus while providing their services. Why did this happen and what can we do to prevent this in the future?
Before the pandemic, China could supply half the number of surgical masks needed globally. It was also the only country that was capable of mass production of clinical gowns. With the surge in numbers of covid-19 cases, China instituted Public health policies that prevented many factory workers from returning to their jobs.
With the reduced supply came a domestic increase in demand for the PPE. China was thus forced to impose an export restriction on PPEs. Similar measures were also instituted by other countries such as Europe, leading to a shortage in PPE supply in the world market. The deficit in PPEs meant that those in need had to cough more money to acquire the PPEs.
Worldwide, countries prevented any PPE from leaving their countries to ensure domestic supply. PPE nationalism became the stance of most countries.
Shortage of raw materials
With the increase in demand for PPEs, new manufacturers came online. It did help boost production but did not fully resolve the issue of pricing. There are still constraints on the market. Specific raw materials are still in shortage. Some manufacturers have not yet returned to the pre-pandemic production levels. Those who had products were requiring a firm financial commitment of the sales. Failure to do so or the buyer acting slowly, the seller will move to the next available buyer.
Lack of a global mechanism for assigning PPEs
There is a lack of global criteria to help decide the steps to take if the world faces a shortage of PPEs. The lack of proper measures has denied some countries access to the PPEs they seriously need, while other countries have a surplus supply. Countries with less supply have experienced hikes in prices in their local markets.
Lack of flexibility
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world responded slowly to week-to-week epidemiological changes. Lack of flexibility has led to a shortage in PPEs, causing a rise in the same price.
Possible solutions to prevent a future rise in PPE prices
A global mechanism for assigning PPEs is essential. The tool will help ensure that no country is disadvantaged when it comes to the supply of PPEs. Better coordination and communication between countries is critical. This is where entities such as WHO can play an important role.
Some steps need to be taken into account to help avoid a future increase in PPE prices. Countries need to come up with proper measures that will help increase their PPE production rate. It will help ensure that governments have an adequate supply of PPEs in the future if the need arises.
The US was at the mercy of other countries as most of the PPE manufacturing was done in Asia. Our government should explore how we can encourage manufacturing in the US. This may entail offering low-cost loans or grants for new companies and tax incentives for established companies to encourage them to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US. At the least, the government should encourage these companies to possibly have facilities in other parts of the world and not be too dependent on one country.
This pandemic has brought the world to its knees. The situation will get better but it is also a wake-up call that our policy on public health, manufacturing, and other aspects of our economy need to be adjusted so that any future emergency can be handled much more effectively from the onset.