ppe Covid-19
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  • To see out the Covid-19 crisis, South Africa needs more personal protective equipment (PPE), parliamentarians have been told. A lot more.
  • By current estimates the health service is short some 72 million pairs of gloves, and 82 million face masks.
  • That's not counting more than 10 million N95 respirators, and 160,000 face shields.
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.

South Africa still needs vast quantities of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the health sector to deal with the expected load of Covid-19 cases, parliamentarians have been told – despite recent emergency orders and donations.

Between provincial health departments, the national department, and the Solidarity Fund, some R755 million has already been spent on PPE, the department of health told Parliament in a presentation based on numbers it says was up to date as of 8 April.

That massively bulked up supplies in some areas. When it comes to bags to deal with biohazards, for instance, provincial authorities have ordered 50 times as many as they used to keep on hand.

See also: SA has four weeks’ stock left of gloves, masks – but a big Chinese shipment should land in time

But the shortfall is still expected to be stark, with only about 35% of the total amount of PPE expected to be needed either in hand on on its way.

By the number of items, the biggest shortages are in barrier gloves to be used in day-to-day healthcare operations, and surgical face masks for the use of patients.

The other gaps left include:

  • 11 million aprons
  • 160,000 goggles or face shields 
  • 5 million biohazard bags
  • 22 million gowns
  • 10 million N95 respirators
  • 21 million surgical masks for health-care workers

In total, the health department estimated, South Africa still needs 210 million pieces of PPE. At prices paid to date, that will come in at a price of well over R3.5 billion – if the equipment can be had at all, amid global shortages.

At a Business for South Africa media briefing on Tuesday morning, Stavros Nicolaou, a senior executive at the pharmaceutical company Aspen, warned that the country has about four weeks' worth of stock left for frontline medical staff and other essential healthworkers. While the subsiding coronavirus crisis in China has freed up some of its capacity to export PPE, some 180 countries are all currently vying for the same medical equipment.

See also: Govt wants you to wear a cloth face mask - here's how to make one at home

Business for SA, a new organisation that coordinates the corporate response to the Covid-19 crisis, has secured R400 million in PPE, mainly from China. The stock, which includes one million sterile gloves, 1.12 million N95 masks, 6 million surgical masks for healthcare workers, 8.5 million masks for patients and 200 ventilators, should arrive within the next four to six weeks.

The money for the shipment came from the Solidarity Fund, as well as corporate donors including Naspers and the Motsepe Foundation. Another R360 million will be spent on PPE soon.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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