“Over the past two decades, US health care has come to rely heavily on international suppliers, especially in China, for thousands of essential products, from surgical gowns to syringes. In fact, as of 2019, the US was the largest importer of medical goods — including of personal protective products — in the world.
Over the past few months as the pandemic raged, most US hospitals and health systems have responded by turning to domestic suppliers. They are more reliable given the difficulties with transportation and trade, which have become worse since the pandemic began.
This trend is likely to continue, as hospitals and health care systems try to ensure that they have a steady supply of essential products.
But this new domestic strategy has a particular disadvantage: In general, it is much more expensive. And this puts hospitals — and, potentially, their patients — in greater financial jeopardy.”
“In February, to ensure that the country had adequate domestic supply, the Chinese government took over the production and distribution of medical products. China was not the only country to do this, but because it is a leading global supplier of so many health care products — personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks, medical devices, antibiotics, and pharmaceutical ingredients, to name a few — the decision had major consequences. In 2019 alone, China supplied a quarter of the entire globe’s face masks.”
“The world is experiencing a shortage of surgical masks and respirators. Countries around the globe are scrambling to bulk up their mask supplies to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and allow medical professionals to safely treat infected patients. It’s crucial for health care workers, doctors, and nurses on the front lines of the disease to have the proper protective gear to lower the risk of contracting Covid-19, but America’s mask supply is being so rapidly depleted that even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested homemade masks, like bandanas or scarves, “as a last resort” for health care providers in “settings where face masks are not available.”
Public health officials warned about a strain in the supply chain for masks and other equipment in late February, when the pandemic started to spread in the US, which prompted regular people to snatch up medical supplies. By hoarding masks and respirators, civilians have contributed to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers. (The US government is also partly to blame for overwhelming the health care system by not taking fast enough action to test citizens.)”
“So why is it so hard to produce new masks? The New York Times reported that China made half of the world’s masks before the outbreak, and while factory production has increased nearly twelvefold, the country has kept most of its inventory as it sought to control the virus. US mask manufacturers are also seeing unprecedented demand for masks, with Prestige Ameritech, the country’s biggest producer, aiming to make 1 million masks a day, compared to an average 250,000 before the pandemic.
Despite these efforts, the short-term future appears grim.”