COVID-19: World scrambles to procure dwindling medical supplies

India will need at least 27 million N95 masks, 1.6 million diagnostic kits in coming months, according to GlobalData 

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Monday 13 April 2020
At a pharmacy in Varanasi. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to advance, several countries are scurrying to stock medical supplies. Many of them are running out of test kits and other medical essentials and turning to others for help.

A consignment carrying 400,000 rapid test kits (RTKs) from China meant for Tamil Nadu was diverted to the United States (US) on April 11, 2020. This was disclosed by the state’s Chief Secretary K Shanmugam.

A few days ago, India was forced to lift the ban on export of certain medicines, including hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), when US President Donald Trump threatened of retaliation if it did not do so.

Such is the urgency for medical essentials that many countries have turned to their intelligence agencies.

An Israel-based television channel on March 31 broadcast a purported investigation highlighting how Mossad was preparing a way to ensure highly valuable medical equipment to the country.

The situation has spiralled to an extent that countries are locked in a fierce, covert battle to take control of the limited supply of ventilators, an official from an international agency told media.

The world urgently needs around 880,000 ventilators — the US needs 75,000 while Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom together need 74,000 — according to GlobalData, a data and analytic company.

India, too, will need at least 27 million N95 masks; 15 million protection gear equipment; 1.6 million diagnostic kits and 50,000 ventilators in the coming two months, according to the data.

With exisiting manufacturers unable to meet the growing demand, many countries have begun roping in different industries, such as automotive manufacturing companies, to produce masks and ventilators. 

For example, automative giant General Motors Co has partnered with Ventec Life Systems to manufacture ventilators at the Kokomo electronic assembly plant. The company is also trying to produce 50,000 surgical masks at one of its plant in Michigan.

The UK government in the last week of March awarded a contract to a consortium of plane makers such as Airbus, Arrow Electronics, BAE Systems, GKN Aerospace, Meggitt and Rolls-Royce to produce 10,000 medical ventilators.

In India, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd announced that it will manufacture ventilators. 

Countries reading vulnerability

Many countries are inspecting their stock of medicines and equipment to deal with the pandemic. India had banned the export of HCQ, which was okayed by the Indian Council of Medical Research to be used as preventive medication, before lifting it again. Germany, too, put temporary ban on export of medical gear on March 4.

On March 8, Germany blocked 240,000 face masks headed for Switzerland.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), the world will need 89 million medical masks every month. India, Taiwan and Thailand had banned export of masks in January.

However, India and Germany lifted the ban as part of diplomatic negotiations. On the other hand, taking stock of its vulnerability, Japan earmarked $2 billion to help its manufacturing companies move operations out of China.

Several countries are already speculating a world different from the one we lived in before the pandemic.

France Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire reportedly told media that forced re-examination of ‘the organisation of globalibisation’ will be one among many consequences of the outbreak. Similarly, White House economic advisor Peter Navarro recently said the US is dangerously over-dependent on a global supply chain.



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