What COVID-19 has exposed about the PPE supply chain in the US?

What is PPE?

PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment. PPE is specifically used in health care settings where there is a high risk of exposure to infections or infectious agents. Personal Protective Equipment includes gloves, goggles, gowns, face shields, respirators, and boot coverings. It is a full suite worn by all health care practitioners while dealing with HIV affected patients. PPE suit is specially designed to reduce the risk of hazardous infectious agents and also to protect the skin. 

Personal Protective Equipment is also widely used in treating patients during COVID-19. All practitioners should be strictly recommended to wear PPE during the treatment of coronavirus affected patients. PPE not only ensures the safety of health care workers but also reduces the spread of harmful infections.

Health care supply chains:

The U.S has a total of five different categories in health care supply chains. These categories mainly include pharmaceuticals, medical devices, personal protective equipment (PPE), blood, and medical supplies.  All of the above-mentioned categories and their supply chain are mandatory to run a proper health care system in the U.S. If any failure occurs in this supply chain at any stage it will affect the whole health care system. During COVID-19 when the whole world was in a serious health crisis, the health care supply chain of the U.S got badly affected which soon resulted in the failure of the health care system in the U.S. 

Effects of COVID-19 on PPE supply chain in the U.S:

COVID-19 outbreak has challenged all health care systems around the world. As soon as the news of the first coronavirus positive case breaks out, the experts already predict the shortage in PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Coronavirus is a respiratory tract infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Coronavirus has a tendency to spread ten times more than a normal infection. This virus can be easily transferred from one person to another through respiratory droplets which come out when an affected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. To avoid the transmission of this virus it is strictly recommended for all health care providers to wear PPE full suits to treat COVID-19 affected peoples.

COVID-19 outbreak badly affected the Personal Protective Equipment supply chain. The World Health Organization suggested that N95 respirators (which is a part of Personal Protective Equipment) significantly reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The U.S PPE manufacturing capacity is very limited and the nation’s emergency stockpile had twelve billion N95 respirators which should have been much higher according to the standard analysis. Due to the rapid increase in demand for N95 respirators, the health care system got affected and the U.S nation peoples had faced a shortage in the N95 respirator’s supply. All manufacturing companies of Personal Protective Equipment including N95 respirators required a considerable amount of time to get three hundred million respirators back in stocks. 

To cope-up with this shortage, many other recommendations also made which mainly include that the general public is not allowed to wear an N95 respirator due to its short supply. High-quality Personal Protective Equipment including gloves, face shields. Respirators and boot coverings were only allowed for health care practitioners, nurses, and direct responders who are directly exposed to the coronavirus affected patients and at high risk of getting affected by this life-threatening virus.

The PPE supply chain is severely affected in the U.S by the unpredictable COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure the safety of health care practitioners were the only concern during this pandemic. Health care practitioners work as a first line of defense and if they get affected then who will be going to treat? For this reason, the decontamination method was suggested by the experts. The basic purpose of decontamination is to prolong the life of the N95 respirator and to reuse it during working hours. Note that N95 respirators (Part of Personal Protective Equipment) were designed for one-time use only as its reuse will affect its filtration efficiency which is 95%.

For the continuous supply of PPE, the U.S government is paying a very significant amount of money to get highly demanding equipment from all over the world. The U.S government also invested in many local companies to increase their manufacturing speed of N95 respirators and other Personal Protective Equipment.

COVID-19 pandemic also raises many questions regarding PPE supply chains as the government and all health care providers have no basic information. These questions are where all PPE is made? How much are PPE producing companies? Any risk of shortage in the product? All these questions showed up the condition of data transparency in the U.S health care supply chain. If this problem will not be addressed soon then the health care supply chain of the U.S will continue to suffer in future pandemics.

Conclusion:

COVID-19 has affected the whole healthcare supply chain in the U.S including pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, blood, and medical devices. Each one of these categories had affected the supply chain differently. In this article, we have discussed almost all the major points of “Effects of COVID-19 on PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) supply chain”. To face the future pandemic, the U.S government should ramp up its stockpile to the updated standards. The U.S government should also increase the number of local PPE manufacturing companies across the country. This step will help health care providers and the general public to purchase Personal Protective Equipment on a low-cost budget.

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