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Manufacturing technology


While many countries save money by sourcing PPE from abroad, global supply chains unravelled amid the pandemic.


In 2017, Hurricane Maria led to an acute shortage of sterile saline solutions when manufacturing capacity concentrated in Puerto Rico was badly hit. Leaders should have known that personal protective equipment (PPE) was likely to be particularly vulnerable in a disaster scenario, says Miller, because the products can be manufactured cheaply but have limited margins of profit. For this reason, it makes financial sense for many countries to source masks and gowns from abroad. It’s a strategy that works until it doesn’t. Most of the world’s PPE stock is manufactured in China – and everyone knows why that became a problem at the beginning of 2020. The globalised medical product strategy began to unravel when a mystery disease was discovered in Hubei province, one of China’s manufacturing hubs. As Wuhan locked down hard, PPE factories pivoted to favour their domestic customers and turned off the tap to much of the rest of the world. In March 2020, WHO estimated that fighting coronavirus would take the planet’s healthcare workers 89 million masks, 76 million pairs of gloves and 1.6 million sets of goggles every month. “Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real,” said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the time. “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.” But international solidarity broke down and a global scrum for protective equipment ensued.


No place like home It wasn’t just masks. At the start of the pandemic, many countries stopped exporting more expensive


Medical Device Developments / www.nsmedicaldevices.com


medical devices too. India, for instance, banned the export of all types of ventilators on 24 March 2020. Such events prompted analytics company GlobalData to predict that countries will favour domestic production for key medical devices once the pandemic retreats. “From a risk-analysis perspective, relying on imports of essential medical devices is a serious threat to public health security,” said the company’s medical device analyst Tina Deng in a press release.


“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real... We can’t stop Covid-19 without protecting health workers fi rst.”


Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO


More than a year into the crisis, Ronald Leibman, head of transportation at law firm McCarter and English says there is still a clear case for increased domestic production capacity for medical devices. “These practices will not in the short term eliminate the US medical device [industry’s] dependence on overseas suppliers such as China,” he cautions. “But creating efficiencies and redundancies will minimise or eliminate supply chain disruptions, and assure that hospitals and healthcare providers do not face shortages of critical machines again.”


There is also a social responsibility argument for home-grown medical equipment. Domestic manufacturers have been operating on an unlevel playing field for decades, says Miller. “They are expected to compensate for low, and sometimes


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REC Stock Footage/Shutterstock.com


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