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Protecting the frontline

Although COVID-19 vaccines are receiving a lot of attention, it is still vital that countries have access to quality-assured PPE. Could you please explain?

It is vital that all COVID-19 responders, particularly health workers, have PPE. They run the risk of contracting COVID-19, potentially spreading it to their family and communities. This puts pressure on the health system as more health workers are tested positive for COVID-19. Patients will not have access to essential care services.

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It is well-known that indoor ventilation, handwashing regularly, physical distancing, and regular handwashing are all effective ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. Because vaccines do not eliminate transmission, but they provide protection, this must be maintained. The other issue is that coverage of vaccinations remains uneven across the globe. As of 20 December 20, 2021, 7.5% of low-income populations have had at least one COVID-19 vaccination. This leaves many front-line workers exposed and unprotected.

Omicron variants are causing new waves of COVID-19 infection in many regions of the globe. This is likely to increase demand on national health systems. We continue to rely upon PPE to protect health workers in areas with low vaccination coverage.

The pandemic caused a surge in demand for PPE. We know that the demand for PPE soared at times, often at the cost of quality. What is WE doing in order to ensure that its PPE meets international standards?

PPE is often associated with medical masks, gowns, and examination gloves. These items are used frequently in the health care system. PPE was made more important by the introduction of COVID-19.

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To ensure that PPE works effectively, it must meet strict technical performance standards and specifications. It all comes down to the material used for PPE, its breathability, fit [for masks], as well as the length of certain items.

The World Health Organization (WHO), has published guidance regarding technical specifications and standards for quality PPE. WE only purchases and delivers PPE that conforms to this.

These items are not restricted to WE. In 2020, 11 United Nations agencies joined with 2 international non-governmental organisations to create long-term supply arrangements (LTAs). Quality was an essential element, along with affordability and accessibility. The agreements today ensure that we are able to prevent stockouts in case of future health crises.

We are available to handle requests for this equipment from Our global supply hubs in Copenhagen and Guangzhou, Guangzhou, Panama City and Dubai. We send PPE in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

Can you tell us how many PPE WE has shipped since the pandemic started?

WE has shipped more than 895 million PPE items to 141 countries since January 2020 (as of 20 Dec 2021). These include medical masks, N95 respirators and goggles. As you can see, significant amounts of these supplies have been sent to countries with low and middle incomes that are eligible for Our Humanitarian Action for Children Appeal (HAC). This appeal has been crucial in funding the procurement and delivery PPE.

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PPE products shipped

Demand has not slowed down either. If we examine the order figures closely, it is clear that the number of PPE products shipped in 2021 was higher than the amount shipped in 2020, which saw a spike in demand due to COVID-19. We planned ahead to ensure that the availability of PPE was dependent on the course of the pandemic. We are available to handle requests for this equipment from Our global supply hubs in Copenhagen and Guangzhou, Guangzhou, Panama City, and Guangzhou. We send PPE in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. We usually use sea-freight, but sometimes, smaller quantities or urgent requirements call for air transport.

It’s more complicated than booking a flight. We must manage import licenses, transport requirements in our country, and security issues, all against the backdrop of constrained global supply chain.

What about emergency situations? Are there any difficulties getting PPE into countries?

WE Supply Division has decades-long experience in delivering life-saving supplies to children in emergencies. This expertise has been used throughout the COVID-19 response to ensure that supplies can be moved quickly from warehouses or directly from factories to countries. It is the same for PPE delivery.

For example, we shipped almost 2 million PPE items to Syria in December 2021. The first shipment was flown by plane to Beirut, Lebanon and then trucked to Syria. To support front-line workers and health, we are also shipping large quantities of PPE from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Yemen. Sometimes custom transport solutions such as charter cargo flights are required. It’s more complicated than just booking a flight. The logistics involved are complex. We must manage import licenses, transport requirements in our country, and security issues, all this against the backdrop of global supply chain constraints.

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We’re not only providing PPE for emergency situations, but we also reach countries that are difficult to reach and do so in a creative way. We chartered a plane from Timor-Leste in August 2021 with ultra-cold vaccine freezers, routine vaccinations, and PPE. This was done to reduce the number of flights and costs.

Are there different PPE requirements for countries, such as the type of equipment required for certain purposes? What is WE doing?

Infection prevention and control measures in health care settings are difficult for countries with limited resources. There is no single solution. These problems can be increased depending on how many countries have COVID-19 or routine vaccination programmes. They also face challenges in providing primary care services outside of urban areas. Some of these situations pose a risk due to insufficient hand hygiene supplies and supplies. Others face physical distancing issues because of crowded clinics and hospitals.

WE designed four PPE kits to meet these needs. They include different supply items to make it easier for front-line workers and health professionals to do their jobs safely, while protecting themselves and the communities that they serve. These kits are intended to support COVID-19 vaccinations, routine immunization programmes of children against diseases like measles or polio, as well as primary health centres and outreach activities. These kits are designed to protect against both low- and high risk infection scenarios. They also include PPE for cleaning.

We are bundling together medical masks and gloves, as well as boots, coveralls, and other items. This is another example of how we think outside the box to ensure that countries get the right supplies when they need them.

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