What Happened to the PPE Supply Chain in February 2020?
PPE Supply- A Line of Defence Against the Global Pandemic
Personal protective equipment is a critical topic, also the most emotive subject for frontline healthcare professionals who are working in close contact with patients affected by Covid-19. In the wake of the pandemic, personal protective equipment supply acts as the first line of defence against the spread of the virus.
To understand this more let’s look at the importance of PPE:
- It helps in preventing the spread of the virus from one person to another.
- It protects the lungs from breathing in contaminated air.
- It protects the eyes of the person from infections.
- The impermeable fabrics of the PPE act as a barrier between the skin and the infectious materials.
- Even with the use of antiviral medications, the use of masks, gloves, gowns, etc, is critical in protecting hospital staff, other patients, and visitors.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and state stockpiles are instruments to provide additional PPE supply in emergencies. The Strategic National Stockpile, also known as the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile is the national repository of critical medical supplies in the United States. Even after such instruments, the advent of coronavirus in the US faced acute PPE shortages. The transmission of coronavirus in the US likely began in late January or early February. The first identified cases in the US were among travellers who had flown in from Wuhan, China (the considered epicentre of the pandemic), in the middle of January. In addition, some of the non-travel cases in the US were reported around 26th-28th February, likely started with a single infected person arriving from China. While, there were more than 500,000 confirmed cases around the world, and the death toll reached 23,335 by the end of March. Consequently, the surge in Covid-19 cases resulted in the rapidly-increasing demand for PPE. This further ensured the disruption in the PPE supply chain.
Disruptions in the PPE Supply Chain
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the PPE supply chain has not been able to function adequately to meet the surging demand. With the pandemic causing huge impacts on people’s lives and communities all around the world, the disruption of global PPE supply is putting lives at risk. Surging demand in combination with panic buying and misuse of PPE amid the Covid-19 pandemic is causing major disruption in the global PPE supply. Also, the ongoing pandemic demystifies the vulnerabilities of PPE supply chain. It has been observed how over the past few years, healthcare systems in many countries have preferred offshore PPE production. The main reason for doing so can be low-cost providers. If we talk about the US, 95% of surgical masks are produced overseas. When Covid-19 first emerged in Wuhan, China, it resulted in factory shutdowns and bans on travel and PPE export. This had put significant strain on PPE supply chains, while the evolving pandemic nature of COVID-19 led to political and technical constraints in the supply chain.
What has been Done to Mitigate PPE Supply Shortage?
To improve the efficiency of PPE inventory management, the just-in-time system has been implemented worldwide. Just-in-time is an inventory management system that increases efficiency by minimising inventory. Although this system has been known as a great strategy to increase efficiency, it plays in contrast with the idea of stockpiling. This causes PPE stocks to be insufficient at the time of the sudden surge in demand. So, what can be done to optimise the PPE supply? In order to assist healthcare facilities optimize and plan the use of PPE, CDC has developed a PPE Burn Rate Calculator. This is a spreadsheet-based model that will help both healthcare and non-healthcare facilities when it comes to optimization of PPE supply. Besides this, in order to ensure the careful utilization of available resources, various strategies are being implemented to manage the current PPE supply. These strategies are made to ensure a continuous supply of protective equipment despite limited production.
Countries Responses to PPE Supply Chain Constraints
There are several constraints in production and logistics that are preventing the PPE Supply chain from functioning properly. To name a few- raw material shortage, export bans, transport constraints, hoarding, and high dependency on PRC (People’s Republic of China) as a production hub. Countries around the world are urgently implementing measures in response to these constraints. As of February, the government of PRC has introduced measures to support the production of face masks. As a result, China is producing more than 200 million face masks a day. Furthermore, below mentioned is a country response to the PPE supply crisis.
- President Donald Trump signed the Defense Protection Act on March 18, 2020, that allows the military to produce PPE such as face masks.
- In the UK, manufacturers of all shapes and sizes are rising to the government’s call for help building personal protective equipment and ventilators. Companies like AE Aerospace, Alloy Wire International, Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, etc are coming forward for the production of face masks, shields, ventilators, and a lot more.
- Talking about Japan, the government provided support to increase capital investment in mask production. As a result, Japan secured a supply of more than 600 million masks per month.
- Also, automobile companies in the PRC, such as SAICGM-Wuling, a General Motors Co. venture, has built 14 production lines for masks with a daily capacity of 1.7 million masks
- President Trump also plans to replenish and restructure the Strategic National Stockpile. It will be done with an aim to identify high-need areas and increase domestic production of supplies. This plan includes the implementation of predictive analytics to determine the high-need areas and the use of technology to provide real-time PPE supply chain visibility.
Does PPE Supply Future Look to Brighter Days?
We all know how Covid-19 is highly contagious and spreads mainly through respiratory droplets. Fighting the battle against this pandemic would have been impossible without the PPE supply. There is a critical role the PPE plays, especially for the healthcare professionals who are on the frontline, treating COVID-19 positive patients. It’s sure how the disruption in the PPE supply chain is affecting the medical professionals majorly, the strategies that are being implemented for the optimization of the same will definitely mitigate the constraints. Also, PPE supply manufactures and vendors are working twice as hard to meet the PPE supply needs.
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