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Global shortage of PPE a major concern for South Africa’s COVID-19 response team


On Monday, 13 April 2020, Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, and Clinical Infectious Diseases Epidemiologist, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, along with some of South Africa’s leading scientists and medical leaders hosted an online presentation, where they discussed the country’s current efforts and future plans to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Pressing concerns were noted during the discussion of Medical Care, stage 6 of South Africa’s 8-stage COVID-19 response, one of which is the preparation of medical staff for peak response as the inevitable exponential curve nears. 

“We need to get the staff ready. We need to have our makeshift ICUs, our ventilators [and] our PPE [but] all of them [are] major challenges because the whole world is trying to get all these things at the same time,” Professor Karim said.

Professor Karim also noted that field hospitals will have to be built in big cities for triage, as was done in Central Park in New York City, where medical staff will determine the severity of each case and only refer those who are seriously ill to hospitals.

This approach will prevent overwhelming the hospital and medical staff, and slow the use of precious resources like personal protective equipment (PPE) which is in critically short supply globally due to rising demand, panic buying, hoarding and misuse, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Leon Stoltz, CEO of Stoltz One, an international trading company that imports medical equipment and PPE, said that their suppliers often sell out due to increased demand. 

“The global demand is very high. Our suppliers are able to produce up to 500 000 units per day of PPE like CE and FDA-approved medical masks, but they sell out fast. We tell our clients to act quickly to ensure that our suppliers can assist them timeously.” 

Shortages of PPE have had devastating effects on healthcare workers around the world who are fighting the virus from the frontline and often treat patients without proper PPE.

A number of South African medical staff have tested positive for COVID-19 and in countries like Italy, the UK and the USA, some, including doctors, have lost their lives to the virus.