Rising prices of medical masks and other personal protective equipment (PPEs) are undoing a lot of Nigerian hospitals as doctors and nurses run out of PPEs amid surging cases of coronavirus in Africa’s most populous nation.
Doctors and nurses are worried about their safety as the rate of patient-to-health worker transmission continues to rise.
Many hospitals cannot afford to kit their doctors and nurses as it takes N25,000 or more to kit a doctor or nurse properly each day with PPE. A hospital with 50 doctors will need a budget of N1.250 million daily to kit them.
A pack of 50 surgical disposable face masks sold for less than N4,000 in January now goes as high as N17,000. Also, a kit of medical protective clothing sold for N1,500 in January on Jumia is now N14,000, BusinessDay finds.
A lot of hospitals cannot afford the humongous cost, with some already threatening to shut down temporarily if they can’t procure PPEs, and doctors and nurses are avoiding patients without being fully kitted.
The surging prices of PPEs is a demand-supply dynamic, but it is also proving to be one too many.
Francis Faduyile, president, Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), confirmed that many hospitals are in dire need of PPEs.
“The government had thought that the PPEs were exclusively for those in isolation and treatment centres,” he said.
“But it is becoming clear that those in normal, regular hospitals, where you don’t know if patients have COVID-19, need to protect themselves,” he further said.
He said government has promised to send PPEs to hospitals, but pointed out that it is early in the week to ascertain if the assurances have been met.
Total coronavirus cases in Nigeria hit 1,273 on April 27 with rising daily deaths. The number of infected healthcare workers has risen lately to over 40, according to Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s health minister.
It was gathered that groups and countries ordering PPEs now employ armed guards to follow consignments to avoid losing the equipment to desperate customers offering higher prices.
During the peak of early anxiety over the spread of the coronavirus, the second half of March, the price of a pack of low-quality face masks shot up to N12,000, three times the pre-COVID-19 price of N4,000. Before the novel coronavirus, it had been easy for hospitals to buy multiple cartons for workers’ use. But the situation has now changed.
More private hospitals are likely going to be under lock and key soon with PPE expenditure eating deep into their pocket of running cost, said Joshua Ante, a medical doctor at a private hospital in Lagos.
“Those in the isolation centres are fully protected whenever they want to see patients, making it less likely for them to get the virus. But doctors in other hospitals use just gloves and face masks and might not treat patients as COVID-19 case until they find out that they are positive,” Ante explained in a phone chat with BusinessDay.
The National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) had raised the alarm that healthcare workers in non-coronavirus-designated facilities could be more at risk than those in isolation centres, urging hospitals to consider all patients as potential cases and practice universal precautions.
Considering all patients as potential cases of coronavirus means sufficiently shielding workers with PPE, which has become a scarce commodity in many parts of the country.
Many are looking to the United States, India and China for PPEs, but these countries are racing against time to save their own health workers.
A major player in the health sector explained that there is a global shortage of PPEs, stressing that what is happening in Nigeria is not strange.
The experienced health markets player, who pleaded anonymity, said Nigeria has an opportunity to encourage local manufacturers to explore the production of PPEs.
The person stressed the need to boost health infrastructure, capacity training, supply chain and access to capital.
There are efforts to locally manufacture some of the PPEs. But the local manufacturing sector suffers from lack of competitiveness as policy and business environment continues to hurt factories.
Fidelis Ayabae, chairman, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN), said the manufacturing sector offers little support during disease outbreaks because it is not competitive and the country pays lip service to issues that can support it.
ODINAKA ANUDU & TEMITAYO AYETOTO