The importance of PPE during a global pandemic

 

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic, meaning it had spread worldwide. The devastating effects of the virus became evident early on as hospital admissions surged around the world and almost every country had issued lockdowns and stay at home orders. From Canada to the UK, from Italy to India, people had to quickly adapt to a new normal.

As governments began advising citizens on how to act and what to do during these unprecedented times, one thing became very clear; personal protective equipment was quickly becoming a daily necessity.

Doctors and nurses needed the highest-grade PPE available to ensure their own safety whilst working on the front lines in hospitals that were reaching maximum capacity at an alarming rate. In Canada, the number of people entering hospitals who required ventilators went up by 129%, highlighting the severity of the pandemic and the strain it forced onto healthcare workers (source).

In addition to frontline hospital staff, people across the globe require PPE to go about their everyday lives. Whilst the PPE recommended for everyday use by the general public does not need to be as protective as those used by healthcare workers, it is equally integral as it aids greatly in infection prevention.

 

What is personal protective equipment (PPE)?

 

PPE has clearly become an integral addition to the lives of everyone during this pandemic. Before Covid-19 gripped the world, the term Personal Protective Equipment was scarcely used, but now you cannot get away from it. So what actually is it?

The PPE you’ve been hearing about throughout the pandemic, in short, refers to any kind of protective clothing that aids in the prevention of disease transmission. There are various forms of PPE, which can protect an individual’s entire body; from face shields, to shoe covers, from glasses to gloves.

Ultimately, PPE is the first line of defense against the virus. It creates a physical barrier between the germs and bacteria, which are ever-present in the current state of the world, and the person wearing it. It is for this reason that the Public Health Agency of Canada, along with most governments across the world, has consistently recommended the use of face coverings in public spaces. However, the increase in the demand for PPE across the globe has proven difficult for suppliers.

 

What are the types of personal protective equipment?

 

PPE is an umbrella term that encompasses a plethora of different forms of equipment. In a non-pandemic sense, PPE can refer to any kind of clothing that can protect you from exterior harm. For example, one form of PPE includes the kind of safety equipment you would require on a building site, including helmets and noise-cancelling earplugs.

The category of PPE that has been required throughout the pandemic is known as medical PPE. There are many different pieces of equipment that fall under this classification, all of which are utilized in different ways, to different degrees based on individual situations.

Both gloves and masks have proven to be the two most integral forms of PPE throughout this pandemic. Gloves have always been a necessity in hospitals, but with the transmission of the virus proving to be unrelenting, they were more in demand than ever. Gloves are an essential aspect of PPE to ensure optimal safety during the pandemic.

Similarly to masks, there is a hierarchy in effectiveness of gloves, ranging from the most protective nitrile gloves, down to the least protective rubber glove. Nitrile gloves in particular have been in high demand throughout as they ensure an immediate, reliable defense against infection, and their one use disposable nature means new ones are always required.

In addition to gloves, the other aspect of PPE that has received the most attention and created the most demand is masks. The rhetoric pushed by governments across the world is that masks are integral in stopping the spread of the virus, and therefore should be utilized by everyone. However, the variation in masks is vast, with different people requiring different grades of this PPE.

Doctors and nurses who are in direct contact with Covid-19 patients are most often seen wearing N95 respirator face masks. N95 refers to the classification of filtration, as these masks provide up to 95% filtration of airborne particles. This form of mask also protects against aerosols, a key way in which Covid-19 is believed to spread.

Another form of face masks which are popular amongst healthcare professionals are surgical masks. These provide safety against airborne droplets but not aerosols, as they have a lower-grade filtration system. Finally, the general public has been advised to wear masks with the lowest grade filtration system as they, unlike healthcare workers, can maintain social distancing and are not in direct contact with Covid-19 patients. They are therefore advised to wear cloth or fabric face masks, many of which can be reused, unlike the surgical or N95 types of masks.

 

Other Personal Protective Equipment includes but is not limited to: 

  • Glasses
  • Full length gowns/aprons
  • Face Shields
  • Hoods
  • Shoe Covers

 

What is PPE fraud?

 

As the demand for PPE increased, unfortunately, so did the fraudulent schemes as individuals and companies began to capitalize on the fears of entire populations. These schemes operate by attempting to sell faulty equipment such as testing kits which do not provide accurate results, or ineffective gloves and masks.

PPE fraud can also operate on a larger scale by providing misinformation regarding the effectiveness of the product they are selling in order to secure government contracts to allow them to supply PPE. There are also some no-delivery scams in which fraudsters will sell large quantities of PPE to customers with no intention of ever sending anything.

Generally, these schemes are run by scammers who directly contact individuals in order to try and sell them their faulty products. In reality, there is an array of different ways in which one could be targeted by PPE fraud, all of which you should be aware of.

 

Examples of PPE fraud: 

  • Promising large amounts of PPE to customers without possessing them and with no intention to purchase, create or deliver them to those who have purchased them.
  • Advertising a specific medical grade of equipment and delivering equipment known to not be of that level, or faulty and ineffective equipment instead.
  • Hoarding PPE
  • Selling PPE at a price that is significantly marked up from the recommended retail price in order to maximize profit to an unreasonable degree.

 

How to avoid PPE Fraud

 

The best way to protect yourself from being scammed by one of these schemes is to be aware of some of the most obvious tactics that the individuals running these scams use. It is also useful to be aware of how legitimate suppliers operate in order to highlight the differences between the two.

 

Signs of Fraud: 

  • The business has a limited paper trail. This refers to the difficulty finding things about the company online. It may look like the company has been established recently, with a limited history.
  • The company is unable or unwilling to provide you with shipping/tracking information.
  • They require unusual payment methods such as demanding full upfront payment.
  • Their point of contact is difficult to verify (e.g., an unknown number or email which is difficult to track).
  • The seller is unable to logically justify the procurement of the products you are trying to buy. Remember, PPE is in high demand, why and how do they have access to it?
  • The price is a good indicator of fraud. If it is being sold at an exponentially different rate than similar products, or if the seller attempts to change the price, it is likely a fraudulent transaction.

 

Whilst there are plenty of people trying to scam individuals out of their money for PPE, there are also legitimate vendors and suppliers who continue to provide high quality products to those who need it.

 

Signs your supplier is legitimate:

  • Do the sellers have the appropriate licenses from Government authorities? (FDA/HC, establishment license, ISO certification, etc.). As a lot of PPE is being imported in the current climate, you can look at both the certificates required by your own country as well as the one your products are coming from to ensure the highest possible quality.
  • Check that your supplier is on a list of authorized distributors. These lists are readily available online.
  • Just as you can tell the illegitimacy of a fraudulent company by investigating their track record, you can do the same with legitimate companies. If they are a reputable company, they should have no problem in finding glowing accounts of their business.
  • Although they may be a reputable company, ensure they have a favorable history in supplying PPE. Many companies saw the demand for PPE and redirected their usual efforts in merchandise making into PPE making, so make sure they have a good track record specifically in PPE supply.