Getting protective gear for medical personnel is a headache for the government

The government is struggling to buy supplies of personal protective equipment for health-care workers as it competes with other nations to purchase essential equipment from China during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government is struggling to buy supplies of personal protective equipment for health-care workers as it competes with other nations to purchase essential equipment from China during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: 123RF/Dmitryi Epov

The government is struggling to procure equipment to protect the medical practitioners who are on the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus.

Deputy health minister Joe Phaahla made this admission on Friday, saying the biggest producer of this equipment was China, which was itself in need of it.

Moreover, with the coronavirus having spread mostly in Europe and the US, which are also importing from China, competition was making things more difficult.

However, the government was doing everything in its power to ensure all health workers were protected, he said.

"Government is committed to making sure personnel protection equipment is provided to all our health workers in the public and private health services. The challenge we have faced in the past few weeks is that there has been inadequate availability. A lot of medical equipment comes from China," said Phaahla.

"China itself is in need of most of this equipment and is therefore limiting the exports. When the disease spread to other parts of the world, especially in the US and Europe, demand for this equipment has been rising as these major countries have also wanted to import from China and other producers.

What was making things worse, especially for South Africa, said Phaahla, was the plummeting rand against foreign currencies when the purchase has to be made with foreign currencies.

"Lastly, the unintended consequence of the cessation of a lot of logistics, in terms of aircraft, means there is a limitation in terms of your capacity.

"We have made efforts as government as a whole, led by the department of health and working in conjunction with the department of trade and industry, and also with the national treasury, and we have brought in partnerships from organised business to make sure these matters  can be addressed."


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