ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 24: A tourist wearing face
A tourist wearing face masks visits the Colosseum area in Rome, Italy, in February. (Photo by Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)
  • WHO say shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for Covid-19 patients.
  • An estimated 89 million medical masks are required for response each month.
  • To the rescue is South Africa, which is expected to deliver 800 000 medical grade respiratory masks, a top Italian civil protection official told AFP on Tuesday.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that severe and mounting disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) – caused by rising demand, panic buying, hoarding and misuse – is putting lives at risk.

PPE shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for Covid-19 patients, due to limited access to supplies such as gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns, and aprons.

Based on WHO modelling, an estimated 89 million medical masks are required for the Covid-19 response each month. For examination gloves, that figure can go up to 76 million, while international demand for goggles stands at 1.6 million per month. 

Case in point, Italy - which needs 10 million masks to fight the virus.

To the rescue is South Africa, which is expected to deliver 800 000 N95 respiratory masks, a top Italian civil protection official told AFP on Tuesday. A batch of 400 000 arrived on Monday and Italy’s worst affected region, Lombardy, was using up 200 000 masks a day, reported the Manila Bulletin

Out of Europe, Italy has been by far the worst hit, with 2 502 reported cases and 80 deaths, according to situation data on WHO's website released on Wednesday.

Italian tourists have also been found to have spread the disease all the way to Nigeria, with 15 more in India reported a day ago.   

South Africans have come to the aid of other countries, like China. 

South African company U-Mask, that donated 30 000 of its premium N95 face masks to the Chinese government to help curb the spread of Covid-19, now says it has back orders in the hundreds of millions.

Co-founder, Jordean Eksteen, told News24 that since its donation, the company had secured more business from other Asian companies and the Chinese government that will take years to fulfil the demand.

“We are busy adding more machines to increase our production from four to six million units per month," said Eksteen.

The U-Mask plant currently operates 24 hours a day, in shifts, to meet the growing demand.

The WHO is calling on industry and governments to increase manufacturing by 40% to meet rising global demand.

“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real. Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop Covid-19 without protecting health workers first,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, prices have surged. Surgical masks have seen a six-fold increase, N95 respirators have trebled and gowns have doubled, they said. 

Supplies can take months to deliver and market manipulation is widespread, with stocks frequently sold to the highest bidder.

WHO has so far shipped nearly half a million sets of PPE to 47 countries, South Africa not included, but supplies are being rapidly depleted.

Complied by Jay Caboz.

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