Shortage of protective equipment hampers efforts against coronavirus

Updated 10 Feb 2020

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The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) has been hampering government’s efforts to safeguard its healthcare workers and put up a strong response to the outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the neighbouring China, say experts. — Reuters/File
The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) has been hampering government’s efforts to safeguard its healthcare workers and put up a strong response to the outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the neighbouring China, say experts. — Reuters/File

PESHAWAR: The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) has been hampering government’s efforts to safeguard its healthcare workers and put up a strong response to the outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the neighbouring China, say experts.

“PPEs are most important to prevent human to human transmission and to protect the healthcare providers from being infected. The government placed a ban on export of PPEs two weeks ago to be able to cope with its shortage,” an Islamabad-based health expert told Dawn.

He said that the country required 110,000 respirator masks but only 1,200 were available at National Institute of Health Islamabad, showing a shortfall of over 100,000. He said that only 100,000 gloves were available against the need of 300,000 with a gap of 200,000. Gloves are most important of the PPEs used frequently by healthcare providers along with masks.

With the advent of epidemic of the 2019-nCoV in China, demand for PPEs has risen causing their shortage as many stakeholders including army, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), provincial governments, private medical institutes and WHO etc are trying to build stocks of the items.

The experts said that a total of 1.7 million surgical masks were required by NIH but stock was zero while the availability of surgical gowns was also nil despite need of 61,000. They said that 61,000 Tyvek suits were required but only 2,500 were available.

Expert says NIH requires 110,000 respirator masks but only 1,200 are available

They said that the government was also short of disposable shoe covers, caps, goggle, face shields, biohazards bags, etc.

The government has also recommended provision of PPEs to 35 hospitals and five airports throughout the country to cater to the needs of healthcare professionals involved in management of suspected corona patients.

“Not only shortage of PPEs is a source of concern but the prices have been shooting up.

However, we are working hard to acquire sufficient stock and collaborate with other organisations for the safety of our healthcare providers, who are putting their lives at stake to prevent the virus from infecting people,” said the experts.

Dr Tahir Nadeem Khan, the director-general health of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told Dawn that there was shortage of the items in the market but they were dealing the situation because the number of suspected case was very small.

“At the moment, we are having few PPEs, which have been supplied to the main hospitals having suspected cases. We hope to get few items of PPEs from market of Lahore tomorrow. If we get ample quantities, we will be distributing them same to all the hospitals,” he said.

Dr Tahir said that they could purchase whatever was available but they were still short of few items for which efforts were afoot to purchase.

The local industry has started producing full body suits, but N95 masks, three ply surgical masks, goggles and virus transport media were short in the market. “We have ample funds but can’t purchase many items in required quantity because of shortage,” he said.

The experts said that worldwide shortage of PPEs also beset the WHO. On Friday last, the WHO chief told a press briefing that there was shortage of PPEs. “There is disruption in supply chain management and shortage of PPEs and other supplies,” said experts.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2020