Let’s protect our health workers combating Covid-19
Dr Elizabeth Gitau
News that a local health worker recently contracted coronavirus has demonstrated the increased need for the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for those on the frontline combating the virus.
As health workers take care of patients with COVID-19, they require PPE that include surgical masks, respirators (N95 masks), eye protection (goggles), latex gloves, boots, long sleeve gowns and hazmat suits.
A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that the current global stockpile of PPE is insufficient, particularly for medical masks and respirators; and the supply of gowns and goggles is soon expected to be insufficient.
Surging global demand— driven not only by the number of COVID-19 cases but also by misinformation and panic buying—will result in further shortages of PPE across the world.
The capacity to expand PPE production is limited, and the current demand for respirators and masks cannot be met, especially if widespread inappropriate use of PPE continues.
Health workers around the world have improvised PPEs as shortages hit, with nurses in New York using garbage bags as gowns and Italy doctors improvising snorkeling masks as reusable respirator masks.
The situation in Kenya is no different. There has been an increased demand in PPE, especially surgical masks, N95 masks and disposable gloves.
This accompanied by reduced supply from China who is the major source of medical equipment, has resulted in hiked prices of the commodities by suppliers.
Many hospitals are struggling to access the PPEs due to unavailability from suppliers and increased prices.
Some private health facilities are even considering scaling down operations or closing down to avoid exposing their workers to COVID-19 in the absence of PPEs.
How can address this situation?
The management of PPE should be coordinated through essential national and international supply chain management mechanism to reduce bottleneck in access.
This would entail the government considering taking control of the PPE supply chain through direct importation; exploring government to government deals with China, India and other major exporters and centralisation of PPE ordering process.
The government should also consider reduction of importation taxes of essential medical supplies.
To encourage local manufacturing of PPE, the government should subsidise production cost for local manufacturers and reduction of regulatory and licencing issues for those with capacity for mass production to accelerate process without compromising quality.
Innovation aimed at designing PPE from locally available materials should be encouraged.
The main pharmaceutical suppliers—Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA) and Mission for Essential Drugs and Supplies (MEDS)—should be allowed to supply private facilities in addition to the public and faith-based institutions.
Greater coordination by all stakeholders, including the Health Ministry of Health, Kemsa, Kenya Private Sector Alliance and Kenya Association of Manufacturers would ensure optimisation of supply chain. This would enable price control of PPE.
PPE use in hospitals should be based on risk of exposure and health workers should be sensitised on the various gear needed for the various set-ups as per WHO guidelines.
The severity of the situation dictates that we protect our health workers. Should they end up getting infected, where does that leave the country in the efforts to mitigate the surging spread of Covid-19? —The writer is CEO, Kenya Medical Association. [email protected]