Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Bangladesh is witnessing a rapid increase both in Covid-19 infections and deaths (1,582 deaths till 25 June) and daily new cases are around 4000. The curve is almost reaching a vertical climb. Creating an alarm in the battlefront – the health sector, most critically ensuring the quality masks, respirators and personal protective equipment (PPE) for the health workers.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the health ministry was only able to provide an insignificant number of US-made N95 masks to medical professionals battling COVID-19 in the country. And mitigated the challenge by Chinese made KN-95 masks which were said ‘equivalent’ to N95 respirators.
Alarmingly, a significant portion of Chinese masks and PPE’s – which entered Bangladesh – are counterfeit and low-quality masks, creating potential health risks for those using it, especially healthcare professionals. And adversely, these low-quality medical products are flooding the Bangladeshi market and hindering the locally produced world-class masks and PPE’s.
Faiaz Rahman, Director, Urmi Group said, “Demand spike of mask and PPE has brought in multiple new manufacturers in the market. As the US FDA has blacklisted most Chinese companies, they are now flooding the Bangladesh market with substandard products.”
Leading Bangladeshi Readymade Garment (RMG) manufacturing factories have come forward in producing top-notch protective masks to cater to the ever-increasing demand. APS Group, ZnZ created anti-viral, water-resistant (FDA, CE certified) protective masks and fabric, JMI Hospital Requisite Manufacturing Ltd manufacturing KN95 standard masks. While other leading companies like BEXIMCO provided Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), medicines, test kits for diagnosis for protecting the front-line health care workers.
Leading Bangladeshi Readymade Garment (RMG) manufacturing factories have come forward in producing top-notch protective masks to cater to the ever-increasing demand.
The grim reality is the immense challenge the Bangladeshi manufacturers are facing against the cheap quality Chinese made products and they need policy support from the govt. to keep the lifeline sector of Bangladesh’s economy running.
“Firstly, N95/ KN95/FFP2 masks are one-time use products which are being reused by general people and it defeats the purpose. These are medical-grade products and not meant for general use. WHO and CDC have both recommended washable cloth masks for general use and I think the message should be conveyed properly to general people,” Faiaz Rahman added.
He continued, as for PPE gowns/coveralls, Bangladesh customs should ensure the import of products only from accredited suppliers. Having an FDA registration number or CE mark only is not enough. We should ask for device listing numbers for FDA, lab test certificates and do random sample testing during import before clearing customs.
“Educational content for the usage of PPE should create and publicize. Lastly, PPE and masks are products which can be easily produced in Bangladesh with strict guidelines. It is not rocket science. Instead of importing, we should incentivize and promote local manufacturers to build capacity and be self-sustained for the local need and develop and export market parallel,” Faiaz Rahman concluded.
In this regard, Rubana Huq, President, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) said, “The masks and other PPEs manufactured by China would come at a cheaper price and greater quality since China has been leading this market for decades. The economy of scale, efficiency achieved through a long learning curve, technologies being used and automation, availability of raw materials and access to the global market has put them in a unique position to deliver the quality at such an optimum price.”
“This is a huge sector where Bangladesh has untapped opportunities since PPEs of medical and non-medical grades have a significant global market. I think it would not be an optimistic stance to compete with China at this stage, rather we can be China Plus, and for this, some policy intervention is required,” said Huq.
BGMEA President added, “We sincerely appreciate the government of Bangladesh for lifting all duties and taxes on the import of raw materials to manufacture PPEs which has been the great first step. If the sector can be provided with additional fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, it would be helpful for our products to compete in the global market.”
“At the same time, special supports in terms of project financing, fast track support from different licensing authorities of the government, and the supports of the government to get expedited approvals from the medial/drug administration of the foreign governments would help.”
“Most of all we need to be trained human resources since PPEs are sensitive items and need to maintain the highest standard of hygiene practices in the manufacturing processes, so a trained pool of workers and technicians are of great importance to have a competitive footing in the world market,” she concluded.
“As it is health concerns items and lifesaving issue, the government must impose quality inspection clause for both import and local products,” said Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, Director, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).
“Also government can offer tax benefits in all kinds of related raw materials with long time incentives package to promote export of these new dimensional products,” he concluded.
Across the world, many European governments, Turkey, Canada have rejected Chinese-made medical equipment due to sub-standard. In a recent blog post, EU Chief Diplomat Josep Borrell warned that there is “a geopolitical component including a struggle for influence through spinning and the ‘politics of generosity’.”