The World Health Organization (WHO) warned of severe coronavirus-related disruptions in the personal protective equipment (PPE) supply, with increased demand—including some inappropriate use—leading to inflated prices and shortages for healthcare workers who need the equipment most.
In other developments, the number of daily novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) illnesses from China fell slightly for a second day in a row, with 3,143 new cases reported.
At a media telebriefing, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the WHO's director general, said the group has been working with PPE stakeholders to assess the supply and ensure that equipment flows to where it's needed most.
From the WHO's assessment, demand for PPE is up to 100 times higher than normal and prices are up to 20 times higher, exacerbated by widespread inappropriate use outside of patient care. There are now depleted stockpiles and a four- to six-month backlog. "Global stocks are now insufficient to meet the needs of WHO and its partners," he said, adding that responders need 7 percent to 10 percent of market capacity to protect China's frontline healthcare workers.
The WHO said it discourages stockpiling in areas where transmission is low, and Tedros called on all countries and companies to work with WHO to ensure fair and rational use of supplies and balance the market. "We all have a part to play in keeping each other safe," he said.
WHO officials said the problem doesn't relate to surgical masks worn by the public, but rather PPE materials used in medical care, such as N95 masks.