The novel coronavirus pandemic has been posing significant challenges to the health care systems around the globe. Among these challenges are the shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). Although governments and industries have been making an effort to ramp up PPE production, the forecasted demand for countries over the next coming months outstrips the available supply in the pipeline. Logistics constraints and market restrictions have been placing additional obstacles in the distribution of these supplies. As a result, shortages are likely to remain.
The emergence of new hotspots and the fear of the second wave of infections has kept the demand for PPEs at an unprecedented high level. Affected countries have been employing national stockpiling strategies that have been contributing to this demand further. On the other hand, with China’s production normalizing and, in some countries, with the rise of domestic PPEs production, the supply availability has been improving. However, all these efforts are still not enough to meet the current and near-future demands. In the USA, despite a belief that the domestic production growth will hit 180 million in October, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) still expects shortages of N95 masks in the upcoming months (Reynolds, 2020). In addition to this, prohibitive prices and limited availability of some raw materials supplies have been slowing down the manufacturing process.
However, episodes of PPE shortages have not been exclusively caused by the inability of the current manufacturing capacity to meet this unprecedented demand. Logistics constraints, such as reduced air freight capacity, reduced workforce, and travel bans, hamper the flow of goods around the world. The inability to deliver the right product at the right place at the right time and in the right amount has also led to temporary shortages. Additionally, market practices, such as advanced payment and selling to the highest bidder, have been driving supplies to countries and organizations with the highest bargaining power. Small and medium health care institutions and low-and middle-income countries are more likely to experience PPE shortages. UNICEF estimates that demand in these countries could reach 2.2 billion surgical masks, 1.1 billion gloves, 13 million goggles, and 8.8 million face shields until the end of this year. As a result, ensuring that all healthcare workers have access to the PPEs needed for COVID-19 response is critical. It is not only a matter of raising manufacturing capacities and supply chain responsiveness but also of ensuring that social-economic inequalities do not reflect in access to PPE supplies. With governments and supranational organizations struggling to tackle these issues, in particular the latter one, civil society groups must step in. Their closeness to institutions in need alongside its knowledge and network might not solve the root cause of shortages, but it might be the key to a rapid response to local and regional PPE shortages.