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COVID gear supply chain safe, says health ministry

Published:Monday | April 6, 2020 | 12:14 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness has advised that the Trump administration’s decision to halt overseas shipping of personal protective equipment (PPE) from the United States is unlikely to affect the country.

The US is grappling with a critical shortage of gear as COVID-19 cases there surge beyond 330,000 and deaths top 9,000.

And with US Surgeon General Vice-Admiral Jerome Adams warning that this week is going to be the “hardest and the saddest” for “most Americans’ lives”, describing the period as a “Pearl Harbour moment”, the global jostling for PPE is expected to intensify.

The health ministry told The Gleaner that approximately 10 per cent of Jamaica’s medical sundries suppliers are based in the US.

“The US banning the exportation of PPE during this pandemic will not impact Jamaica as our suppliers for PPE are mainly from China,” a response from the ministry read.

The health ministry explained that “orders placed have been coming in, and the bulk is expected within the next 30 days”.

US President Donald Trump last week leveraged the Defence Production Act to force American companies into ramping up production of medical supplies to meet domestic demand, directing his harshest criticism at 3M.


Berlin’s Interior Minister Andreas Geisel rapped the US for engaging in “modern piracy” by intercepting 200,000 Germany-bound masks for its own use. The equipment was ordered for Berlin’s police force.

Although Jamaica’s Ministry of Health and Wellness has said that it is banking on China, it is unclear whether Trump’s posture will make it more difficult for Jamaican expatriates to send supplies back home.

The American Friends of Jamaica (AFJ) is a US-based organisation that raises funds for healthcare and education, among other things.

AFJ President Wendy Hart said that the charity had been collecting supplies for a while, and a “big shipment of PPE came in ahead of the restrictions”.

Hart said that sourcing equipment for COVID-19 healthcare, not limited to PPE, was an issue.

However, she said that the ministry has a network through the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization that gives them access to suppliers.

“There are several people who are now able to access material out of China because China is starting to open back up, so it’s not affecting anything that we have already lined up or have in transit,” Hart told The Gleaner.

The AFJ president said that there were no indications yet as to whether the restrictions would be tightened but noted that “each country, as they hit their peak, their number-one priority is their population”.

The Chinese government has pledged to deliver to the island 60,000 masks, gloves, eye protectors, protective suits and test kits for 3,000 people. Jamaica is also slated to receive 10,000 masks from the Beijing People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

The country is also expected to boost the number of ventilators in the public health system from 80 to 105 by May 1.