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The Perils of Procuring PPE

With Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) sought after around the globe, m2m President & CEO, Frank Beadle de Palomo, updates on our efforts to ensure m2m’s frontline health workers are protected from COVID-19.

Before COVID-19 began its deadly and disruptive path around the globe, many of us never thought about ‘PPE,’ let alone knew what it stood for. Now you can’t get through a day without hearing about shortages and the struggles facing governments, organisations, and individuals around the world to obtain Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, and the complex and frustrating supply chains one must navigate to procure it.

Unfortunately, these challenges are something mothers2mothers (m2m) is now all too familiar with, as we have had to rapidly engage in new spaces to best protect our frontline staff from COVID-19. The issue is complex.

For m2m, the health and safety of the brave and tireless Mentor Mothers working on the frontlines is our imperative. Here is why we are desperately trying to procure PPE to protect our frontline staff:

m2m Mentor Mother in Ghana speaking with a client.

1. We continue to serve clients. Having been designated “essential workers” across our nine African nations of operation, these remarkable women are providing vital health information and support at health centres to clients (HIV does not take a break during any other virus’s pandemic). While our frontline staff are not actively managing symptomatic COVID-19 patients, the virus can be transmitted by clients who are asymptomatic.

2. Our frontline staff need protection. Governments and facilities are struggling to equip essential workers with PPE. While the highest-grade of protective gear is rightly reserved for those working with COVID patients, we estimate that each Mentor Mother should ideally have three 3-ply face masks (not n95s) and three pairs of gloves per day, plus 200 ML of hand sanitiser per month.  Per month, this adds up to:

108,000 gloves,108,000 masks, and 360,000 ML of hand sanitiser

I have no doubt these quantities pale in comparison to the PPE needs of a hospital in a busy metropolitan area in the U.S. or Europe. However, for a mid-size organisation that usually does not have a need for protective gear and must pay for it with scarce unrestricted funds, the quantities are daunting.

3. We may be living this ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future. As the African continent is just beginning to climb the infection curve, we know we have our work cut out in the months ahead to continue securing PPE.

Currently, some of these materials are being supplied by our government partners, and we already have secured some PPE,, but we are still facing a large shortfall in the months ahead. And like many, one big lesson we have learned is that prices fluctuate wildly in this demand-driven, global marketplace. What seemed like a huge amount of money for a one-month supply of PPE last month, looks reasonable today.

Thanks to the perseverance and ingenuity of our staff at our head office in Cape Town, South Africa, and our country teams, we have made progress in identifying and accessing supply chains for PPE in most of the countries where we work. This has included quick-thinking colleagues overhearing that a store was receiving a shipment of hand sanitiser that had been in short supply, and tracking down the supplier to purchase a one-month supply. Or, in a country where high-quality masks are unavailable, our staff have researched the most protective cloth masks and managed to secure a supplier. We will continue working with our country teams, governments, and partners to locate PPE supplies as quickly as possible.

In addition to protective equipment, we are taking other measures to protect Mentor Mothers such as carefully monitoring outbreak trends and protocols at health centres so that we can relocate Mentor Mothers to another location, if required. We are also supporting our frontline staff to adhere to their antiretroviral treatment so they stay virally suppressed, which is critical to reduce the risk of serious health complications from COVID-19 to the same level as someone who is HIV-negative. Additionally, we are working rapidly to adapt our tools so that Mentor Mothers can provide services to their clients digitally, when it becomes unsafe to see them in person or they cannot reach them in the community.

If you are able to support us to protect our frontline staff during this unprecedented time, we would be grateful. Please donate here.

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