Delivering PPE in a COVID Climate for Vital SRHR Services

By Stephen Heath, IPPF Supply Chain Specialist, on behalf of the IPPF COVID-19 Taskforce.

One of the greatest and most immediate challenges for IPPF members from the COVID-19 pandemic has been the ability to maintain services safely. Many members have found it very difficult or impossible to source the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) needed to ensure the safety of their staff and their clients in face-to-face delivery of services.

The IPPF supply chain management team was given the job, on behalf of the COVID-19 Taskforce, of sourcing and distributing PPE to 32 members most in need and likely to benefit the most. The list of members covered every one of IPPF’s six regions.

But what PPE to acquire? What would have the biggest impact? We identified three different products; a Type II surgical mask, which does not have a filter, the FFP2 mask, more commonly known as the N95 mask, which does carry a filter, and contactless digital infrared thermometers.

With a budget of $400k for immediate acquisition of PPE we set about finding a supplier. You can imagine the difficulty as governments, NGOs and other bodies were all scrambling to acquire PPE at the same time through supplier partners.

After a tender round the hardest part was identifying a safe and reliable supplier, after wide reports of quality issues and non-delivery, encountering delays along the way in doing so. By mid-April we had placed orders through Medical Export Group in the Netherlands, with downstream suppliers located in and around Shanghai in China, for 205,000 Type II masks, 48,000 FFP2 masks and 1,400 digital thermometers. 

What began as a three-week lead time turned into a five-week turnaround. On top of that, of course, there was bureaucracy. An FFP2 mask declaration form restriction was imposed by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, which added four to six-week delays for the goods being readied for export.

And there were the different stipulations for PPE by country Ministries of Commerce and Health or equivalents. Thankfully, through the tacit knowledge of members and their brokering partners, these hurdles have been overcome or are in the process of being so.

Two of the allocations to members turned-out to be too small to be viable, a lesson learned for future allocations. That left us with 30 members to reach with much needed PPE.

In the early months of the pandemic, the world was encountering the problem of “PPE piracy”. Two countries authorities confiscated PPE imports destined for MAs. Another reallocated supplies. We heard anecdotal evidence of others seizing PPE transiting through them en route to other countries. We were acutely aware not to transition goods through certain territories as a result. We have had to overcome multiple hurdles, but we have also taken invaluable learnings from the process.

To date PPE consignments have been delivered to 19 countries, three more are in transit and four more are due to leave within the next week. The final four will be on their way as soon as freight route restrictions are overcome, and recipient customs clearance obtained.

Among the most complex deliveries have been those to Tonga, which was closed to inbound goods until June. Eventually we were able dispatch the Tongan consignment via Auckland in New Zealand.

But it has proved even harder to reach those destinations impoverished by years of civil unrest and humanitarian crisis. Trying to find ways of delivering consignments to Yemen, Syria and Sierra Leone has been very tough. After exhausting all the traditional freight forwarding routes and networks, we have been able to open a dialogue with the UN’s World Food Programme in the hope of the goods transiting through there established and respective governmental approved networks.

This is currently in the latter stages of discussion with flight bookings underway, for the consignments to transit through their Emergency Service Marketplace and their Bilateral Service Provider. 

The resilience and perseverance of IPPF members has been inspiring throughout and emphasis from the recipients has focused on the importance of deployment for the continuation of vital SRHR services. As the crisis moved from Asia and Europe to Africa & the Americas, the importance of swift deployment became apparent and the foresight of the COVID-19 taskforce team payed dividends.

The IPPF COVID-19 Taskforce is setting a new benchmark of collective decision making and actions to contribute to the vision of a Unified Secretariat. Its Microsite and Slack channel have been invaluable to share news throughout the Federation.

Please do continue to engage with each other and the Taskforce through them.  In particular, the #innovation and #services Slack channels are a great place to share members experience and enable peer support where other members would like to replicate DHIs.

And you can stay up to date on the work of the Taskforce through the actions and decisions page here: Actions and decisions from the COVID-19 Taskforce

In Solidarity,
Stephen Heath, IPPF Supply Chain Specialist.

Posted in All Updates, C19-Responsive SRH Services, Commodities and Supplies, Taskforce Updates

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