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'Supply chain to blame for few PPE'

Health officials test people. / ESA ALEXANDER
Health officials test people. / ESA ALEXANDER

The national health department is planning closer scrutiny of provincial stocks of protective medical equipment and will be adding these details to a real-time system already in place for monitoring key medicines, according to acting director-general Anban Pillay.

Despite SA's relatively low numbers of Covid-19 cases by global standards, a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) has already emerged as a key concern among health-care professionals.

The global tally stood at 2.97-million reported cases yesterday, with 206,500 deaths.

SA's biggest doctor union, the SA Medical Association, has previously raised the alarm over a shortage of PPE reported by its members, and last week health minister Zweli Mkhize ordered an audit of supplies in the Eastern Cape as part of a national
effort to shore up the province's response to Covid-19.

Pillay attributed hospital-level shortages of protective gear to supply chain problems within provinces.

"There may be adequate stock at the depot, but inadequate stock at a particular facility because the communication between depot and facility is bad. Consequently, the facility does not order in time, or the depot does not deliver in time," he told Sowetan's sister publication Business Day shortly after addressing a virtual meeting of parliament's portfolio committee on health, and the select committee on health and social services.

"The supply chain needs to be more agile, and respond quickly to orders," he said.

The health department has a well-established "stock visibility system" for monitoring medicine supplies and expects to start capturing PPE details on it this week, he said.

Mkhize told MPs that SA was currently able to meet the demand for Covid-19 testing, but warned of potential problems down the line as the US was limiting exports of the rapid test kits required for SA's GeneXpert machines.

"It is important to keep a watch on the supplies of the diagnostic kits, because that is where our challenges are going to come from," he said. "We are aware the whole continent is looking for the same kits. We are in touch with the African CDC [Centres for Disease Control] to look at how we can assist each other," he said.

By April 25, 168,643 tests had been conducted in SA, of which 40% were done in the public sector. More than a third of the tests (61,830) had been performed in Gauteng, while just shy of a fifth were done in Western Cape (33,335), according to a document presented to parliament by Pillay.

Meanwhile, Proudly SA announced yesterday that it has launched an online marketplace for cloth masks to connect corporate buyers with
local producers. Demand for cloth masks is set to soar as the government now recommends that everyone wear a cloth mask when out in public to protect others from Covid-19.

"This is an incredibly important initiative that will provide real solutions for two of the most pressing challenges we have in SA at the moment: ensuring that our citizens, and most importantly, our frontline healthcare workers are protected against the Covid-19 virus; and to ensure critical sectors in the local market are able to weather the economic storm," said Business for SA health work group chair Stavros Nicolaou.

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