08.12.2020 Different approaches to medical and non-medical personal protective equipment worldwide

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there is no doubt that most people worldwide, not only medical workers, have paid more attention to personal protection. However, given the differences in industry structure, productivity, etc., there are still difficulties for people to get themselves enough PPE among different countries.

Different standards of personal protective equipment worldwide

There are several categories of PPE, and each has different production standards among other countries.

Masks

China developed five main sets of standards for masks produced for medical and non-medical purposes. The GB 2626-2019 is mainly for labor protections. YY0469-2011 and GB19083-2010 are for medical workers, both of which have strict requirements for filtering bacteria, blood, excreta, etc. Chinese industries apply another four sets of standards for daily protection that meet different needs, such as preventing sniffing fog and haze.

The US enterprises mainly adopt three kinds of standards in mask production. Among them, NIOSH is also the most popular one around the world. According to NIOSH, masks can be divided into N, R, and P series with different filter elements. During the SARS pandemic, WHO used to recommend medical workers use N95 masks for personal protection. Besides, ASTMF2100 and ASTM authentication are both for medical protection, too.

In Europe, there are standards like BSEN140, BSEN14387, BSEN143, BSEN149, BSEN136, etc., and among them, the BSEN149 are used more frequently. The AS/NZS1716:2012 is implemented in Australia and New Zealand. In Japan and Korea, enterprises follow JIS T8151:2018 and KF (Korean filter) series, respectively.

Protective Clothing

For medical protective clothing, Chinese GB 19082-2009 stipulated that protective clothing for epidemic prevention must be disposable. EN 14126:2003 is popular in Europe for protective clothing preventing blood and virus penetration. In the US, NFPA 1999-2018, AAMI PB70-2012 are two different standards respectively for medical first-aid and surgical operation purposes. All these sets of standards have various requirements in aspects like blocking liquid, microorganisms, etc.

Different demands and challenges in obtaining personal protective equipment

The demand for PPE is directly proportional to the population of one country. But, to some degree, PPE needs to have more things to do with governments' awareness and promotion efforts. Some countries made policies as soon as there was a potential risk for the pandemic and set up laws and regulations that requested proper PPE. The PPE supply might have been tight at the beginning of the pandemic for these countries but did not bring too much pressure for those manufacturing enterprises at last, given their early preparation. With proper and timely regulation, people, including medical staff in those countries, also obtained enough medical and non-medical PPE during the pandemic.

Still, some countries have difficulties in producing enough PPE. According to WHO's estimation, medical staff worldwide need 89 million surgical masks, 76 million pairs of medical examination gloves, and 1.6 million goggles a month. The global import of medical protective equipment is increasingly dependent on China. Up to August 2020, the Chinese share of exporting PPE rose from about 60% in January to more than 80%.

What made things worse, in some Middle East countries, hoarding and smuggling of medical supplies are becoming rampant, making obtaining PPE for ordinary people much more difficult. Governments have to pay additional efforts to launch an offensive against such crimes. Besides, in some Asian countries, the government tried to stop exporting masks to fulfill domestic demand. Increasing PPE production seems to be hard for most countries in the short term, and people might still have to suffer from being short of both medical and non-medical PPE for a certain period.

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