Personal protective equipment was and still is a vital element in the COVID-19 pandemic, and logistics proved to be key in delivering this equipment around the world fast and effectively.

The healthcare industry worldwide stands ready to handle most crises, following years of investment in equipment and research into treatments. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, healthcare providers were able to react at speed to an ever-changing situation, with the help of their supply chain partners. 

Large volumes of personal protective equipment (PPE), both for industry and personal use, needed fast and efficient logistics to get that equipment to where it was needed most.

The long and the shortage of it

Earlier this year, the Global Personal Protective Equipment Market Report 2021 revealed that distributors delivered 60 billion units of pandemic-related supplies in the first half of 2020 to help healthcare providers, a 15% increase on the same period in 2019; logistics companies such as DP World were seen as vital partners.

The role of logistics in providing a robust supply chain for PPE is set to become even more important in the years ahead as the Global Personal Protective Equipment Market Report forecast spending on PPE will almost triple by 2027.

In the short term, however, the global PPE supply chain faces a more testing time. The report also revealed that rising demand and limited manufacturing capacity have combined to create a predicted 37% shortfall in nitrile gloves this year.

Last year, life-threatening PPE supply shortages were felt most acutely between August and December, according to the results of two surveys carried out by the US-based Oncology Nursing Society to assess supply levels and use of PPE during the pandemic.

The surveys found that there were shortages of hazardous drug PPE, while full access to chemo-tested gloves declined from 64% in August to 55% in December, and full access to hazardous drug gowns was equally low in both surveys. However, access to both surgical and N95 masks increased between the two surveys, as did access to powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) for hazardous drug spills.

Keeping up with the COVID response

To put the supply shortages into perspective, it is helpful to gain an understanding of the PPE volumes involved in the handling of the pandemic.

Modelling by the World Health Organization warned that 89 million medical masks, 76 million examination gloves, and 1.6 million pairs of goggles would be required worldwide each month as part of COVID-19 response efforts.

The global vaccination rollout has also placed increased demands on PPE. For one person to be vaccinated the long list of required PPE includes a cold storage box, antiseptic wipes, two coverall protectors, two masks, two face shields and two sets of boot covers. The list of equipment does not stop there though, as they will also need two gowns, plasters, a safety box for used syringes, boots, two aprons, a thermometer and two pairs of gloves.

As part of DP World’s partnership with UNICEF to distribute two billion vaccines around the world through COVAX in 2021, we will also be distributing over 1.5 million containers with the necessary PPE.

Supply chain disruptions are part and parcel of a globalised world. But the resilience and agility of the supply chain ensured that PPE continued to be transported around the world, plugging the gaps where shortages occurred.

However, even greater transparency and visibility through digitisation will ensure supply continues to meet growing demand in the future as well, ultimately giving healthcare BCOs more control and the ability to speed up decision making.

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