There has been a wide-ranging discussion over the standards and adequate supply of protective gear for Bangladesh's doctors and healthcare workers battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
From the health minister to the health directorate, officials have been claiming, since the very beginning, that they have procured the necessary safety equipment and then distributed it among healthcare workers.
Meanwhile, doctors and healthcare workers say they have an inadequate supply of safety gear.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has said that a global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) has been created due to a number of reasons, including: an overnight surge in demand, a shortage of materials, factory closures in different countries due to shutdowns, a collapse in supply chains, and export bans by many countries.
The Manila-based development lender, in a policy brief, said, along with the United States, the economically-strong European countries have been suffering from a shortage of safety equipment - including face masks, gloves and goggles. The prices of the equipment have gone up by two to six times.
The regional development bank further said it will not be possible to prevent the novel coronavirus' spread if frontline fighter healthcare workers in the battle against Covid-19 are not provided with the necessary protective gear.
In boosting the production of PPE, the initiatives by different countries – particularly the efforts by various companies from multiple sectors such as Ford, General Automobiles and Xiaomi – have come up in the ADB report.
The organisation has suggested increasing the production of PPE before the situation takes a turn for the worse.
Referring to the World Health Organization (WHO), the ADB said 89 million medical masks are required for the Covid-19 response each month, along with 76 million examination gloves and 1.6 million medical goggles. The WHO itself has so far shipped nearly half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 47 countries, but supplies are depleting rapidly.
To meet rising global demand, the WHO estimates that the industry must increase manufacturing by 40 percent and urges governments to act quickly to boost supply.
The ADB published a policy brief titled "Global Shortage of Personal Protective Equipment amid Covid-19: Supply Chains, Bottlenecks, and Policy Implications" on its website.
The report says the global market for PPE, in the healthcare sector, was estimated to be worth $2.5 billion in 2018. Gloves have the highest share of sales revenues at 25 percent, followed by suits or coveralls at 22 percent. Face masks and hats came in third with a share of 14 percent.
The United States had the largest market share at 33 percent – followed by Asia and the Pacific 28 percent and Europe 22 percent, found the report.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the supply chain for personal protective equipment has not adequately functioned to meet the surge in demand. Constraints in supply and logistics, including export bans for PPE and key materials, have come into stark focus, said the paper.
The report explained the greatest concentration of mask production is in China, reportedly accounting for about half the global production capacity. Some sources indicate it could be even as much as 80 percent to 90 percent.
Abrupt supply disruptions in China, the major producer of PPE in the global trade network and the first country to be hit by the coronavirus, are having spillover impacts on Asia and the rest of the world.
However, production capacity in Europe is unlikely to meet a demand surge associated with the rapid spread of Covid-19. The US also depends heavily on overseas production and is expected to face a critical shortage of PPE, said the report.
It added that the PPE supply chain has not been properly functioning to meet a surge in demand due to constraints in production and logistics. Prices of PPE products have risen dramatically since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak – a six-fold increase for surgical masks; three-fold for respirators; and a doubling in the price of gowns.
There is a backlog of four to six months for supply orders, globally, and raw materials are running short. Export bans for PPE and key materials are being implemented from at least 22 countries.
A surge in demand for N95 masks has led to a shortage of the key component, nonwoven polypropylene. In China, the shortage of melt-blown fabric is a serious bottleneck in downstream processes for making high-level N95 masks.
There is a bottleneck of melt-blown production lines, and building the production line also takes time. The high dependence on China as a production hub is also a factor as worker quarantines led to manufacturer shutdowns.
Global production shifts to protective gear and medical devices
Some of the countries are urgently implementing measures to help firms expand production capacity, said the report.
China introduced measures to support the production of face masks by aiding the purchase of raw materials and the hiring of workers as well as offering tax breaks for manufacturers, the country is producing 200 million face masks a day – more than 10 times what it made at the start of February 2020.
Automobile companies of the country have been asked to produce masks and other types of PPE. SAICGM-Wuling, for instance, a General Motors Co. venture, has built 14 production lines for masks with a daily capacity of 1.7 million masks. Truckmaker Shaanxi Automobile Group Co. has started producing goggles with a daily capacity of 3,000 units. The smartphone maker Xiaomi has also been producing thermometers and other equipment.
The government of Japan has provided support for companies to increase capital investment in mask production – while securing a supply of over 600 million masks per month.
More than 60 manufacturers – including Airbus, Jaguar Land Rover and Rolls-Royce – have been sent blueprints for manufacturing up to 20,000 ventilators for Covid-19 patients in the United Kingdom.
Major automakers in the US, such as Ford and General Motors, are also working with medical device manufacturers to increase the production of ventilators and respirators.