How does the United States’ dependence on imports lead to PPE shortages?


A CNN investigation recently found that “tens of millions of counterfeit and second-hand nitrile gloves” entered the United States amid the pandemic.

Although CNN has claimed that sources are still investigating the exact destination of the gloves and the severity of the consequences, this shocking news once again reminds people of one thing – that today the supply chain for protective gear personal injury (PPE) remains problematic, and Americans are still suffering from it.

What factors have contributed to this persistent predicament? And how did Biden’s government respond?

Huge demand leads to rush for “help”

Nitrile gloves are widely used in hospitals and other establishments for examining patients, which means that the demand is huge and urgent. Sadly, as the pandemic has hit the entire supply chain, America faces dangerous shortages of nitrile gloves.

Get Us PPE is an American nonprofit organization that distributes PPE to people who request it. Their data shows that the type of PPE Americans most lacked were once face masks, but by June 2021 demand for nitrile gloves had jumped to second place.

While Americans requested nearly 30 million pairs of nitrile gloves through Get Us PPE by July 2, 2021, only around 80,000 pairs were successfully delivered. And of those who asked for help, 64% estimated their remaining nitrile gloves would be depleted in less than seven days.

So far, a variety of medical gloves, including nitrile gloves, are still on the FDA’s published medical device shortage list. He states that there is “a limited supply available” and says that there is an “increase in demand for the device”. Since the PPE shortage in the United States is not limited to nitrile gloves, incidents such as the influx of used gloves from Thailand reported by CNN are likely to occur with other imports from equipment.

Why has the United States suffered from such a shortage of PPE for so long? The responsibility for this may lie in the country’s dependence on imports.

The use of imports does not make it possible to counter the risks

America is heavily dependent on imports for PPE supplies.

A report released by the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) confirmed this, stating that “imports supply about 80 to 90 percent of the US market for PPE for healthcare applications.” And much of that production that America depends on occurs in Asia, according to the Asian Development Bank report.

However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, countries around the world have been rushing to buy PPE, just as the global manufacturing industry faces a crisis of shutdowns and lost productivity.

At that critical moment, countries like China were able to rely on domestic manufacturing to overcome them, when that was when America realized that its dependence on imports had become a bomb. delayed, and the pandemic blew it up.

Will the Biden administration be able to fix it?

The Biden administration is aware of this problem.

In February, the administration said the federal government would use the Defense Production Act to help build factories and factories to improve domestic glove manufacturing. They set a goal of producing more than a billion gloves per month and meeting about half of all U.S. health care demands by the end of the year.

It remains to be seen if this plan can be achieved, but will this kind of government intervention really work in the long term in the US market?

According to the USITC report, healthcare facilities in the United States are very cost sensitive customers. Over the years, US healthcare providers have sought to partner with the cheapest PPE suppliers. And that’s why Asia has become a major source – because labor costs are lower there.

The higher production cost makes everything “Made in the USA” naturally less competitive in the PPE market, which is exactly the crux of the matter. So even if companies are encouraged by emergency grants from the Biden administration to join this company, they might find it difficult to stay there.

Will the Biden administration make significant efforts to compensate for this fundamental weakness? Manufacturers are pessimistic and urge Washington to act. Some organizations are pushing for changes to the law because they know it’s probably the only way to secure these vital supplies if another pandemic strikes.


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