It is said that only in the face of adversity does humankind truly unite, setting aside personal animosities and disagreements to work together to fight the common enemy. The end of the year 2019 brought with it one of the deadliest pandemics in recent history, that has so far claimed over 325,000 lives globally.
The pandemic didn’t just bring death and destruction with it, it also brought a major change in our lifestyles. While scientists are busy finding the vaccine to cure Corona virus disease, precaution is seen as the only regulatory option to stop the spread of the virus.
The pandemic put a protective mask on a common man’s face and completely changed the landscape of healthcare services. Today, our medical personnel, hailed as the frontline warriors fighting Covid-19, need our help to defeat the Corona virus disease. At the time of writing this article, over 90,000 healthcare workers had been infected and 260 nurses had died from Corona virus. In fact, if the ICN (International Council of Nurses) chief Howard Catton is to be believed, this number could be much higher.
“If the average healthcare worker infection rate, about 6% we think, is applied to that, the figure globally could be more than 200,000 health worker infections today,” Catton said.
The number was estimated on the total global case count of 3.5 million, which has increased exponentially since the statement was released. This brings the estimated total of infected health workers to an alarming 300,000.
Primary reason behind the infections and deaths is the shortage of medical supplies including ventilators and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) kits. Hospitals in United States and United Kingdom have reported a huge shortage of PPE kits, looking up to chain of suppliers to fulfill the demand. Amidst the chaos, Pentagon has struck a US$ 134 million deal with Federal Resources Supply Company to buy personal protective equipment for medical personnel at more than 15,000 U.S. nursing homes to aid in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
“We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who urges industry and governments to boost production and ease export restrictions for uninterrupted supply of PPE kits.
What is a PPE Kit?
A PPE Kit comprises of
- Disposable non-woven gown
- Disposable hood
- 3-Ply mouth Mask
- Disposable eye gear
- Surgical Nitrile gloves
- Disposable shoe cover
The material used in the manufacture of PPE kits needs to be both fluid and virus-resistant. Additionally, the items in the kit need to be breathable as in the upcoming summer months, the non-breathable fabric will cause major discomfort during long working hours among health workers. The PU-coated nylon and polyester used in the manufacturing is available to domestic suppliers and will soon be supplied as raw material to other countries to great profits. The rubber used in hand gloves needs to be approved by the testing laboratories before manufacturing begins. In India, NABL (National Accreditation Board for Testing & Calibration Laboratories) has been tasked with the testing of all PPE kits. Nine new laboratories for PPE testing have been added in the last 15 days, which includes Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences, Delhi; Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment, Agra and six labs of Ordinance Factory Board. The Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), also accredited with the invention of PU-coated nylon fabrics.
According to a report, approximately 200 million PPE kits are in demand globally due to the pandemic. The number is expected to increase and reach its peak in the month of August 2020. Medical masks are the top most priority of health workers and are being demanded massively worldwide.
All personal protective equipment (PPE) that is intended for use as a medical device must follow The FDA’s regulations and should meet applicable voluntary consensus standards for protection.
As a result of the unprecedented demand, the production of PPE kits has increased rapidly in countries like China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Thailand, United States and several European nations. UNICEF forecasts that for the remainder of 2020, 2.2 billion surgical masks, 1.1 billion gloves, 13 million goggles and 8.8 million face shields will be needed to combat the disease.
While China dominates the production and supply of PPE kits, the common global sentiment associated with the origin of the virus prevents many from sourcing the PPE kits from there. Additionally, when India, who was not producing a single unit until recently and is now the second largest manufacturer of PPE kits in the world, ordered protective gear from China, over 65,000 exported kits failed quality tests. This propelled India to initiate production of PPE kits indigenously. Textile hubs like Tirupur have delivered exceptionally, making approximately 10,000 PPE kits per day. The number has gone up considerably since, especially with the help of production houses like Arvind Mills, 3M, Indian Technical Textile Association (ITTA), currently standing at over 450,000 PPE kits per day, according to the Textiles Minister, Smriti Irani..
Even fashion houses have set aside their garment manufacture targets and are pitching in to increase the daily output of PPE kits production. With such an elevated increase in production against relatively limited demand, the next step for these manufacturers is export.
“As of now, we are only supplying within India but once we get the technology and the export market opens up, there is a vast potential to scale up,” exporters association general secretary TR Vijaya Kumar said in a statement. He estimates this to be an INR 10,000-15,000 crore revenue opportunity this year alone.
Other Asian countries like Taiwan are also ramping up the manufacturing of PPE kits. Taiwan alone makes up for 20% of global supply of face masks. The prices are competitive and at par with China and India.
The 200 units at Tirupur working day and night to increase the daily output of PPE Kit production have their eyes set on a much bigger prize. The ministry of textiles official confirmed recently that the total production of PPE kits has increased to 4.50 lacs per day. With the current rate, all domestic demand will be met and industries will be ready for exports. If the estimates are to be believed, we could be looking at a potential US$2 billion market share. Striving for excellence and innovation, these units are now developing bio-degradable and reusable 3-layer masks with the outermost layer being water and viral resistant for maximum protection.
Manufacturing PPE kits will soon turn profitable in many countries including India, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The government of India is providing all necessary help to MSMEs and other businesses that aim to increase production of valuables including protective gear. “With a huge international market in sight, delving into the manufacture of PPE kits is like mining gold,” a local manufacturer was quoted as saying when asked about the potential of the business.
The best part about getting into the manufacturing business is the ease with which quality standards can be met. About 300 tribal women are toiling every day in making 3000 PPE kits at the Banswara and Dungarpur districts of Rajasthan. The textile ministry is helping these women by increasing the order quantity to 1,00,000 PPE kits which they plan on finishing by the end of May.
Exporters can also benefit by purchasing PPE kits from small enterprises and selling them in international markets to great profits.
The colossal impact of Covid-19 has changed lifestyles globally across all strata of society. According to the latest statement from WHO’s Executive director Dr. Mike Ryan, the virus just may become another endemic virus in our communities and may never go away. As opposed to Ebola, AIDS and other epidemics that have been controlled effectively with sound measures, Coronavirus disease can only be contained by the tested methods of social distancing, protective gear and overall healthcare provided diligently by the frontline workers.
The outbreak has driven growth of PPE market exponentially and according to the market forecast, the market is expected to reach USD92.5 billion by 2025. Developing economies are looking forward to leverage the demand in order to recover from the blow pandemic has caused. Sadly yet ironically, there has never been a better time to get into the manufacturing business of protective medical devices.