The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) director-general today warned that shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns are masks could leave frontline health workers unprotected from the COVID-19 virus, which comes as the epicenter shifts from China to three nations on three different continents.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said China over the past day reported its lowest number of new cases of the novel coronavirus disease since Jan 20. Of nearly 2,000 cases reported in the rest of the world yesterday, though, 80% were from South Korea, Iran, and Italy.

Disruptions in the supply of PPE are severe and increasing because of hoarding, misuse, and increased demand, he said. Surgical mask prices have increased sixfold, N95 respirator prices have tripled, and gown costs have doubled.

The WHO has shipped 500,000 sets of PPE to 27 countries, but supplies are rapidly depleting. It estimates that PPE supplies need to increase by 40%, and Tedros again called on manufacturers to rapidly scale up production and urged governments to offer incentives to boost supplies, including easing restrictions on the export and distribution of PPE and other medical supplies.

Credit: Debora Cartagena CDC

“This cannot be solved by WHO alone, or one industry alone. It requires all of us working together to ensure all countries can protect the people who protect the rest of us,” he said.

Iran outbreak poses tough challenges

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